The future of farming in the UK and around the world could have a considerably more robotic feel after a consortium of businesses was awarded £2.5 million to create the world's first robotic farm.
The ‘Robot Highways' project aims to as a catalyst for a sustainable farming industry in the future by maintaining or even boosting food production, counteracting labour shortages and limiting the environmental impact.
Innovate UK awarded the £2.5m funding to a group consisting of Saga Robotics, global leaders in robotics and autonomous systems (RAS), the University of Lincoln (Europe’s largest academic research centre on agri-robotics), University of Reading (knowledge exchange and economic evaluation specialists), Manufacturing Technology Centre Limited, Berry Gardens Growers, BT, and Clock House Farm Ltd.
By 2025, the consortium aims to deliver a fleet of robots that can carry out a host of farming operations as one, entirely powered by solar energy.
Initially focusing on soft fruit farming, the project is also targeting a 20% reduction in food wastage, a 90% drop in fungicide use and a significant drop in carbon emissions, all while increasing productivity by 15%.
Farming minister, Victoria Prentis, said: “It’s great to see investment in these outstanding ideas which will help us tackle the faming industry’s greatest challenges, from achieving net zero emissions to investing in sustainable alternative protein for animal feed. Farming has never before been at the centre of such exciting and forward-looking innovations.”
Professor Pål From, CEO of Saga Robotics, said: “We are extremely proud and excited to have been awarded this project and we are convinced that the project will transform the soft fruit industry in the UK. This project will deploy robots in the agricultural sector at a scale never seen before, providing an innovative approach to all the major labour-intensive operations within the industry.”
Professor Andrew Hunter, the University of Lincoln's Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: "We are delighted that the University as part of the consortium has been awarded funding by Innovate UK deliver this innovative and essential work. It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, as producers adapt to meet significantly increased global demand, but there is still so much research and development to be done. Robot Highways is extremely timely as it will service a pressing national and international need and positions Lincolnshire, and the UK, at the leading edge of research innovations in this truly global industry.
“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain which generates a Gross Value Added (GVA) of £113bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.”