availability of food for the UK at a time when it is needed most.’ Ali Capper, chair of the NFU Horticulture

and Potatoes board, added: ‘Tis is an excellent initiative and one that is long overdue. British fruit and veg growers have an ongoing challenge around the availability, cost of – and access to – seasonal labour, exacerbated by Brexit and now Covid-19. Tis is a global challenge with many countries around the world facing seasonal labour difficulties. I commend the consortium for their energy in trying to accelerate the use of robotics in the fruit and veg sectors, and look forward to being part of the team that brings new robotic solutions forward to British farmers and growers.’ Wasley said: ‘Tere are some

opportunities coming out of the pandemic, because industries that are usually a bit more hesitant to switch over to new kinds

‘Innovate UK has really grasped the nettle and made funding more available for businesses’

of technology are having to do that more urgently than they thought.’ In terms of helping these companies

bring new technology to market, KTN has been doing its bit to bring people together. ‘We have just released our new strategy,’ Wasley said. ‘So we’re all about connecting for positive change, and to support the UK economy. Now we have, within that, sustainability and diversity, which is really good to see.’ More generally, said Wasley,

organisations such as KTN have been providing platforms to encourage business interaction at a time where doing so has been more difficult, physically. ‘Some if not all of our webinars and events have got some opportunity for networking there,’ he explained. ‘So we use tools where people can book networking meetings alongside our webinars, and we’ve found takeup to be amazingly high.’

Let’s get together From research conducted during a number of KTN events, Wasley pointed out the importance of being able to network for companies and academic institutions looking to bring imaging technology to the commercial market. For | @imveurope

academia, the most important reason to attend an event is to find out the latest information from speakers and other experts, whereas for companies, it is networking and meeting people that’s important. ‘Tat’s really hard to replicate online,’ he admitted. ‘So we have set up bookable meetings for delegates on a more direct basis.’ Wasley is positive that the continued

funding available will help with the drive to bring new imaging and vision technologies to market. ‘Innovate UK has really grasped the nettle and made funding more available for businesses, and it is carrying on with its existing funding programme,’ he said. In addition, it had the Covid-19 response call, a loans scheme, and the Smart Grant competition, which is open for any area of innovation. Included in that is accelerated funding. Innovate UK is offering funding alongside private investors. Schemes are additionally available for companies that have previously received funding, such as robotics firm, Fieldwork Robotics, part of the Frontier IP Group. Innovate UK awarded the company an £84,000 continuity grant to accelerate development of agricultural robot technology. Fieldwork Robotics is focused on developing technology to harvest soft fruit such as raspberries, along with vegetables, to help growers to address issues surrounding labour shortages in agriculture. Te company, a spin out from the

University of Plymouth, won its first grant of £547,250 under the Innovate UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in April last year. Tis was part of a £671,484 project alongside partners including the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory. Since then, Fieldwork Robotics has completed field trials with

some of the largest soft fruit growers in the UK, and raised £320,000 through an initial equity fund. It announced a collaboration with Robert Bosch in July to optimise the robot’s arms and software development, to reduce cost and increase speed as part of a drive

towards full-scale commercial production. Te company has also progressed in developing further applications of the technology to harvest other fruit and vegetables, in addition to raspberries. Fieldwork Robotics was incorporated to develop and commercialise the work of Martin Stoelen, who splits hisg

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