Robot designed to support fruit pickers in the field picks up LEP funding

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A mobile robot which promises to revolutionise the harvesting of fruit and other produce is being developed with the support of funding from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Hugo RT will be capable of operating outdoors and negotiating rough terrain to support fruit pickers and farmers and allow harvesting to continue uninterrupted by journeys to and from the field.

Fox Robotics, based at Innovation Martlesham, near Ipswich, is behind the pioneering project which has been awarded a grant of £25,000 from the Eastern Agri-Tech Research, Development and Prototyping Fund.

Transporting fruit during harvesting is carried out manually and is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Loss of productivity can be as high as 15% to 20% and labour shortages in the sector will only increase the pressures being faced by businesses.

A prototype was developed by Fox Robotics in 2018 that could transport 250kg between destinations and agricultural businesses responded enthusiastically when it was showcased by the company. The Hugo 250 already supports logistics work in areas such as manufacturing, warehouses and 3PLs (third-party logistics).

Now the company, which started four years ago, is working on new robotics technology which can transport produce from a field or polytunnel and deliver empty collection trays without the picking being disrupted.

Paula Alejandra Acevedo, marketing manager for Fox Robotics, said the new robot was being designed to assist farming in the UK and anywhere else that face these challenges, in during the picking operations.

“It will be able to automate one of the oldest industries in the world. Without high costs, and our technology has taken into account the challenges farms face and come up with a solution to improve sales and benefit employees,” she said.

“The R&D grant from the LEP will enable us to carry on working on this technology so we can help to provide food for the nation and ensure we provide employment for more people in all fields.

“We are grateful to been given the grant and that others see the bright future of our technology. We are not only passionate about robotics and AI. We are passionate about the future of agriculture.”

Mike Burrows, New Anglia LEP’s representative on the Agri-Tech Programme Board, said: “Automated solutions have been aimed at picking, but the technology is slow and generally less efficient than teams of skilled pickers. This robotic device will instead address the time lost transporting the produce to the warehouse or distribution centre, addressing a clear gap in the market and driving up productivity.

“I am delighted that Fox Robotics will be using the grant to adapt its exiting model into a more specialist piece of machinery that has the potential to transform the harvesting of food, not just in the UK, but globally.”

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