Fox Robotics, in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the Agri-EPI Centre, along with three prominent farms – MA & MP Stockwell Barnsmuir Farm in Scotland, Lutton Farm in Peterborough, and Secretts Farm in Surrey – has been awarded a grant of £998,639 for their ground-breaking FLEXBOT project, from DEFRA and Innovate UK
The FLEXBOT project is funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (‘Defra’) through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics Competition. The Farming Innovation Programme work in partnership with Innovate UK, who are delivering the programme, and aims to benefit from the significant experience of Agri-EPI Centre in coordinating and enhancing agricultural technology practices and helping farmers, integrating the significant robot vision & AI capabilities of the University of Surrey, to enhance Fox Robotics Ltd.’s cutting-edge technology, with a particular focus on refining the navigation capabilities of their autonomous all-terrain robot, Hugo RT.
Hugo RT was designed with horticulture farms in mind, with all-terrain capabilities and autonomous navigation, providing invaluable support to farmers in their day-to-day operations, but has applications in husbandry, fruit, flowers and other agricultural contexts. Hugo RT‘s versatility spans various tasks, from off-season work like mowing grass, transporting soil, and handling delicate seedlings to the demanding in-season tasks of transporting harvested produce. The unique feature of Hugo RT lies in its ability to perform these tasks without the need for human intervention, thus optimising efficiency and productivity in agriculture.
Navigational robustness and autonomy
The core objective of the FLEXBOT project is to enhance the robustness of the Hugo RT navigation system, ensuring that the robot can operate autonomously in bustling, and energetic farm environments. This improvement will make Hugo RT the solution for a wide range of applications, transcending the boundaries of traditional farm settings.
Scaling up English fruit farms
The overarching goal of the FLEXBOT project is to showcase the scalability, productivity, and profitability of English fruit farms.
Agricultural robotics: a solution to labour shortages
The agricultural robotics market for logistics transportation offers a unique opportunity, particularly in the UK and Europe, where the sector faces challenges due to a reduced availability of seasonal workers. The integration of Fox Robotics Ltd.’s technology, along with the navigation system developed further through the FLEXBOT project, is poised to address these challenges and provide a reliable, and robust solution for farmers.
Scalability and resource optimisation
Furthermore, this technology offers scalability, allowing farmers to adapt to varying farm sizes and layouts. The navigation system provides accurate mapping, enabling farmers to plan their fields effectively and optimise the distribution of resources.
Fox’s Chairman, Christian Gordon-Pullar said: “We are delighted to be able to participate in the FLEXBOT project and to help steer and lead such an illustrious group of collaborators on this exciting journey and very grateful to be selected for this Grant in light of the excellent competition. The aim of this collaboration is to enhance technology that aims to simplify the adoption of robotics in agriculture by mitigating the complexities associated with advanced technology manipulation and will empower farmers to harness the benefits of robotics without the need for extensive technical expertise”.
Gary Livingstone, CEO, Fox Robotics said :“We are delighted to be have received the Grant from DEFRA and INNOVATE UK. It is envisioned that this initiative will not only encourage an ecosystem of add-on suppliers but also lay the groundwork for collaborative efforts that employ mobile COBOT platforms, thus propelling the traditionally fragmented Agri-Tech industry towards standardisation.
Henry Acevedo, Founder and CTO of Fox Robotics, said: “The FLEXBOT project represents a significant step forward in the evolution of agriculture, leveraging state-of-the-art robotics to address critical challenges faced by the industry. With the support of DEFRA, Innovate UK, and a consortium of innovative partners, Fox Robotics Ltd is poised to revolutionise farming practices, ushering in a new era of efficiency, productivity, and sustainability in agriculture. The navigation system, based on Bird’s Eye View (BEV) maps, enables the robots to autonomously navigate outdoor environments, including fruit farms, with precision and efficiency. This capability will prove invaluable in logistics transportation tasks within agricultural operations.”
Simon Hadfield, Associate Professor in Robot Vision & Autonomous Systems, University of Surrey, said: “Researchers at the University of Surrey are excited to participate in this innovative new research project. In a world grappling with evolving agricultural challenges, FLEXBOT aims to provide flexible and reliable solutions to farm automation. Marrying cutting-edge AI research with state-of-the-art robotic hardware, FLEXBOT aims to create a greener, more efficient future for farmers.”
Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager for Crops and Horticulture, Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Fruit growers are interested in tech innovations that can address some of the issues they currently face, such as seasonal labour shortages. Picking robots are still some way from being commercially ready, but robotic platforms that can move fruit and crates around a site will allow pickers to keep picking and not spend time bringing fruit to a central weighing location. This project aims to develop the solution towards increased on-farm adoption.”