Western Daily Press

Robot could re­place sea­sonal farm staff

- WIL­LIAM JANES news@west­erndai­ly­press.co.uk

ANEW robot could soon po­ten­tially re­place sea­sonal work­ers on Bri­tish farms. The Robotriks Trac­tion Unit (RTU) will set a farmer back £7,000.

But with the sup­ply of agri­cul­tural work­ers be­ing hit by coro­n­avirus and Brexit, it may prove pop­u­lar with farm­ers.

The RTU’s cre­ators, Jake Shaw-Sut­ton and Ka­ian Marsh, who founded start-up Robotriks in 2018, say it could fill a labour gap in the in­dus­try and could be a “life­line” for many famers strug­gling to find enough work­ers.

Farm­ers of­ten rely on sea­sonal work­ers from abroad, but with Bri­tain set to leave the EU and with the Covid-19 pan­demic, they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a short­fall.

Mr Shaw-Sut­ton said: “This is not about tak­ing away jobs, it’s about fill­ing jobs where there cur­rently are no people avail­able to do them.

“For a while there have been fewer people will­ing to go out into the fields and har­vest fruit and veg­eta­bles. This is an au­ton­o­mous so­lu­tion to that, and one which is af­ford­able and re­li­able. Even with the cur­rent cost of the unit, which we’re al­ways try­ing to im­prove, it still works out cheaper than hav­ing some­one em­ployed on min­i­mum wage. It can work for more hours, not need­ing lunch breaks or to sleep at night.”

It can work for a full 24 hours be­fore its bat­ter­ies need to be recharged and can carry out tasks in­clud­ing crop mon­i­tor­ing and har­vest­ing.

The project was funded by AgriTech Corn­wall – a three-year, £10 mil­lion ini­tia­tive part-funded by the Euro­pean Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Fund, with match-fund­ing from Corn­wall Coun­cil and an in­no­va­tion grant from the Corn­wall De­vel­op­ment Com­pany.

The RTU can be re­motely con­trolled or set to go to work by it­self and is made of cheap-mass pro­duced parts in­clud­ing a mo­tor used on elec­tric bikes. The Robotriks team is still de­vel­op­ing some as­pects of the ma­chine, in­clud­ing a fully self­con­trolled op­tion au­ton­o­mous con­trol us­ing satel­lites and drones to help it find its way.

Mr Shaw-Sut­ton added: “The unit is fully ad­justable to any height and width. Some farms may have nar­row paths, for ex­am­ple in fruit and veg­eta­bles, or it might need to go wider to get over tall crops.

“And cur­rently you just plug in to charge it, but we are con­sid­er­ing hav­ing a dock­ing sta­tion, be­cause all of the power can be har­vested from a sin­gle so­lar panel. While the RTU is still in the test­ing phase, it is be­ing of­fered com­mer­cially to re­searchers and we hope it will have enough func­tion­al­ity to of­fer to a wider mar­ket over the next year.”

His cre­ation is just one of sev­eral projects cur­rently un­der de­vel­op­ment at the Univer­sity of Ply­mouth.

Yve Met­calfe-Tyrrell, Agri-Tech project man­ager at the univer­sity, said: “This is tech­nol­ogy be­ing de­manded by in­dus­try and the South West is at the fore­front of meet­ing that de­mand.

“The univer­sity has a long track record in ro­bot­ics and we are now ap­ply­ing that in ways that have the po­ten­tial to trans­form the fu­ture of agri­cul­ture.

“We have been work­ing closely with Robotriks to en­able them to de­velop and know that this is only the start.

“To­gether with other emerg­ing com­pa­nies, their growth can cre­ate a clus­ter of ex­cel­lence that po­si­tions the South West as the epi­cen­tre of agri­cul­tural and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion.”

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 ?? Robotriks ?? The Robotriks RTU plat­form can be fit­ted with a range of
tra­di­tional and hi-tech at­tach­ments for use on farms
Robotriks The Robotriks RTU plat­form can be fit­ted with a range of tra­di­tional and hi-tech at­tach­ments for use on farms

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