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Berry-picking robot with ‘super-human vision’ gets government grant

Berry-picking robot from Fieldwork Robotics
Image credit: Fieldwork Robotics

A company developing robots to harvest berries has secured a £600,000 government grant to increase the accuracy of its autonomous systems.

Cambridge-based Fieldwork Robotics has built vertical robots to harvest soft fruits. It is aiming to address a shortage of fruit pickers using automation.

The funding, which comes from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Innovate UK, will support Fieldwork’s BerryAI Project to increase the accuracy that its robots can detect the ripeness of berries.

The project will use wavelengths invisible to the human eye to detect when berries are ready to be harvested. Previous systems used cameras that mimicked the ability of a human harvester.

The new autonomous systems will have improved decision-making capabilities and the ability to work autonomously with a fleet of robots during a harvest, Fieldwork said.

“Harnessing the robot’s capacity for autonomy is key to scaling up Fieldwork’s offering,” said Martin Stoelen, Fieldwork Robotics founder and chief science officer.

“The combination of these two key steps in software development – super-human vision and improved autonomous decision-making – will make Fieldwork’s technology an even more commercially viable option for growers internationally, securing them against the ongoing challenges of a diminishing and inconsistent seasonal workforce.”

Founded in 2016, raspberries picked by Fieldwork robots are already for sale in the likes of Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.

Last year Fieldwork secured £1.5m from climate investor Elbow Beach Capital as part of a £2m seed round, along with receiving a £1.1m Innovate UK grant in December.

Alongside the grant funding, Fieldwork announced the appointment of Christopher Levine as chief financial officer. Levine previously held a senior finance role at consultancy firm Global Counsel and has experience at several startups.