‘Industries that are hesitant to switch technologies are having to do that more urgently then they thought’


investment has actually grown slightly.’ Quantum technology, for example, has seen investment go up, although as Wasley said, this could also be because ‘possibly investors have a higher-risk appetite.’ One way in which R&D has been aided

is via the Innovate UK drive to rebuild the economy through its sustainable innovation fund. Tis aims to rebuild from the damage caused by Covid-19 through investment in innovation. ‘Te prominent message that is coming out is about building the green economy,’ said Wasley. ‘On a practical level there has been around £200m worth of funding specifically for R&D for either tackling the effects of covid or mitigating the economic damage of it.’ Te funding has also been used to help

combat the issue of labour shortage due to the pandemic. Tis is where imaging and machine vision technology has come into its own, Wasley explained. ‘With fruit picking, for example, people can’t come across and pick fruit as usual, so we are funding robotics, but also vision technologies.’ Te fruit picking work in which KTN

in involved is part of a large UK agri- food consortium that was formed to address agricultural labour shortages by accelerating the use of robotics and automation for picking and packing fresh

Fieldwork Robotics has completed field trials with some of the largest soft fruit growers in the UK

fruit and vegetables. Te effort is being co-ordinated alongside the University of Lincoln, the National Farmers Union (NFU), Agri-EPI Centre, and the Manufacturing Technology Centre, with the backing of more than 100 of the UK’s fresh food producers.

Easing growing pains Te consortium has trialled several new robot-based systems on farms producing strawberries, apples, blueberries, lettuce and broccoli. Tose approved technologies will then be manufactured at scale and

fully implemented for the 2021 growing season. Simon Pearson, professor of agri-

food technology at the University of Lincoln, said: ‘Around 70,000 workers are needed annually to pick and pack these products. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it is estimated that only 30 per cent of migrant agricultural workers are expected to come to the UK this season [2020], with uncertainty continuing in the future. Tis could cause severe problems for numerous market sectors, such as fruit and vegetable picking, which, ultimately, will reduce the

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Fieldwork Robotics

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