Western Daily Press
Robot could replace seasonal farm staff
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.”