Defra and innovate UK invest £1m in farm robotics project

FOX Robotics Ltd, in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the Agri-Epi Centre, along with three prominent farms (in Scotland, Peterborough and Surrey), have been awarded a grant of £998,639 for their ground-breaking FLEXBOT project, from Defra and Innovate UK.

The FLEXBOT project involves Fox Robotics’ autonomous all-terrain robot Hugo RT, which was designed for horticulture farms. The robot has autonomous navigation, which the firm hopes will support farmers in their day-to-day operations.

Fruit growers are increasingly interested in tech innovations that can address issues such as seasonal labour shortages. While picking robots are not yet commercially available, robotic platforms can now move fruit and crates, allowing pickers to keep picking.

Fox Robotics says that Hugo RT has all-terrain capabilities and autonomous navigation, providing invaluable support to farmers in their day-to-day operations. It also has applications in husbandry, fruit, flowers and other agricultural contexts.

Hugo RT‘s versatility spans various tasks, from off-season work like mowing grass, transporting soil, and handling delicate seedlings to the demanding in-season tasks of transporting harvested produce. The unique feature of Hugo RT lies in its ability to perform these tasks without the need for human intervention, thus optimising efficiency and productivity in agriculture.

The core objective of the FLEXBOT project is to enhance the robustness of the Hugo RT navigation system, ensuring that the robot can operate autonomously in bustling, and energetic farm environments.

This improvement will make Hugo RT the solution for a wide range of applications, transcending the boundaries of traditional farm settings.

The overarching goal of the FLEXBOT project is to showcase the scalability, productivity, and profitability of English fruit farms.

The agricultural robotics market offers a unique opportunity, particularly in the UK and Europe, where the sector faces challenges due to a reduced availability of seasonal workers. The integration of Fox Robotics Ltd’s technology, along with the navigation system developed further through the FLEXBOT project, is poised to address these challenges and provide a reliable, and robust solution for farmers.

Furthermore, this technology offers scalability, allowing farmers to adapt to varying farm sizes and layouts. The navigation system provides accurate mapping, enabling farmers to plan their fields effectively and optimise the distribution of resources.

Fox’s Chairman, Christian Gordon-Pullar said, “The aim of this collaboration is to enhance technology that aims to simplify the adoption of robotics in agriculture by mitigating the complexities associated with advanced technology manipulation and will empower farmers to harness the benefits of robotics without the need for extensive technical expertise”.

Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. It connects businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth. Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation.


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