Robert Bosch Limited has entered into an agreement to work with University of Plymouth spinout company Fieldwork Robotics to accelerate the development of its novel robot technology to harvest soft fruit and vegetables. Bosch UK will collaborate with Fieldwork’s engineers to optimise the company’s soft robotic arms and develop software aimed at reducing their cost and increasing their speed, in preparation for full-scale production.
The agreement between Fieldwork and Bosch is a significant step forward in the commercialisation of the technology, originally developed by Dr Martin Stoelen of the University of Plymouth. Fieldwork is currently focused on developing robots to harvest raspberries, which are more delicate and more easily damaged than other soft fruits, and grow on bushes with complex foliage and berry distribution.
The company completed initial field trials of its robot raspberry harvesting system in May 2019. The tests took place at a West Sussex farm owned by Fieldwork’s industry partner, leading UK soft-fruit grower Hall Hunter Partnership, which supplies Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose.
Fieldwork, together with the University of Plymouth, is also developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops following interest from leading multinational agribusinesses.
The company was incorporated to develop and commercialise the work of Dr Martin Stoelen, who splits his work between the University of Plymouth, where he lectures in robotics and leads the Soft and Adaptive Robotics lab, and as an Associate Professor at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.
Dr Stoelen has also led projects to develop a cauliflower harvesting robot systems and a tomato picker, a project run in partnership with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Frontier IP, a specialist in commercialising intellectual property, has a 26.9% equity stake in Fieldwork, a holding valued at £1,355,000 following the completion in January 2020 of an initial equity funding round. The university spin-off will use the £298,000 raised in the January funding round to accelerate development and scale up of its robotic technology.
Work to date has also been supported by a £547,250 Innovate UK grant as part of a £671,484 project to develop the multi-armed robot prototype. Other partners in the project included the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.
The agreement between Fieldwork and Bosch represents a further deepening of Frontier IP’s relationship with Bosch, a leading global supplier of technology and services that has approximately 400,000 employees worldwide. Pulsiv Solar, another company in Frontier IP’s portfolio, is already working with Bosch to optimise the design of its energy-efficient solar micro-inverter.
“To accelerate the development of technology that has the potential to improve people’s quality of life and work, it is incredibly important that organisations – big and small – collaborate, making the best use of skills, knowledge and resources,” said Jenny Patten, head of business development for Bosch UK. “To this end, Bosch UK is very pleased to expand its relationship with Frontier IP and support Fieldwork Robotics in the development of its robotic arm for harvesting soft fruit and vegetables.”
“It gives Bosch great pleasure to work with companies that pioneer and change the way robotics are being used to simplify human working and this partnership adds to our ‘invented for Life’ objective,” added Vivek Kadal, head of the Bosch Team working on the development for Fieldwork. “Bosch will provide best-in-class capabilities to enable Fieldwork to commercialise and bring its robots to market.”
“Industry engagement is a vital part of validating the commercial viability of new technology, so we are delighted to be extending our relationship with Bosch UK,” concluded Neil Crabb, Frontier IP’s CEO. “It has provided invaluable support for our work with Pulsiv in optimising its solar microinverter for manufacturability. Agricultural automation is a long-term trend, but one which has been thrown into sharp relief recently from the impact on human labour of COVID-19, demonstrating the potential value of Fieldwork’s technology. We are very much looking forward to working with Bosch UK on this project.”