Special Interest Group
Twenty-four innovative agri-tech projects have today been awarded a share of £16 million funding through the latest round of the government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst to solve some of the world’s greatest agricultural challenges – from food security and sustainability to weed control and livestock disease.
The UK is a world leader in the fast growing agri-tech sector, as global challenges such as rising population, shortages of land, water and energy require better and more reliable production of food. This round of the government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst – alongside industry co-investment – has provided awards between £200,000 and £1.5 million to the most pioneering science and technology projects within the UK’s agricultural sector to help meet the global demand for food with the least environmental impact.
Two of the twenty-four projects include the development of robotic technologies for weeding and picking fruit. The first project between the University of Lincoln and Garford Farm Machinery will investigate the technical foundations for the next generation of robotic weeding machinery, enabling selective and accurate treatment of specific weeds. The proposed technology is a novel combination of low-cost 3D sensing and learning software together with a suitable weed destruction technique. The proposed developments will lead to more efficient cultural weeding equipment resulting in better management of weeds and reduced input use, bringing several benefits to food producers, sellers and society.
The second project between Sharp Laboratories of Europe Ltd; The Shadow Robot Company Ltd; Stockbridge Technology Centre Research Foundation; Thanet Growers Eight Ltd (Thanet Earth) and Cornerways (as part of British Sugar PLC) aims to address the seasonal labour constraints in the UK/European tomato industry and their increasing cost through the development of a cost-effective robotic system that performs on-crop quality and ripeness inspection and then automated harvesting. The project brings together state of the art knowledge of innovative robotic arms, 3D sensing, computer vision and object/pattern recognition as well as expert industry knowledge of commercial greenhouse operations and optimum growing/harvesting practices. This is an industry led project with clear goals for manufacturing and commercialisation post-project following proof of concept demonstration.
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