Farmers in the UK could solve the labor shortage by using a low-cost robotic platform that can be attached to almost any agricultural instrument.
The Robotriks Traction Unit (RTU), developed by the startup business Robotriks, costs about £7,000—less than a tenth of the cost of most other devices on the market.
Using long-lasting batteries, it can be constructed quickly and used for various purposes, from agricultural monitoring to harvesting crops like cauliflowers.
Jake Shaw-Sutton, Senior Robotics Technician at the University of Plymouth, and Khaian Marsh formed Robotriks, its headquarters in St Austell, Cornwall.
Both were raised on farms, so they were familiar with the industry’s issues, but they could also put the RTU through its paces in real-life settings, like testing for soil compaction.
MEng (Hons) Robotics graduate, Mr. Shaw-Sutton, stated this:
“This isn’t about taking employment away; it’s about filling occupations that are now unfilled.” There have been fewer individuals wanting to go out into the fields and collect fruit and vegetables for some time; this is an autonomous option that is economical and dependable.
While we’re continually working to lower its current price, it still costs less than a minimum wage employee since it can work longer hours and doesn’t need to take breaks or sleep at night.”
Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year, £10 million effort sponsored in part by the European Regional Development Fund, with match money from Cornwall Council, and an innovation grant from the Cornwall Development Company have all contributed to the project.
The RTU can be operated remotely or autonomously. It consists of a huge driving wheel, suspension, and computer system attached to a galvanized pipe to which any agricultural implement can be attached.
For example, the wheel’s brushless hub motor comes from an electric bike, which lowers the price of the components.
Then, there are three alternatives for controlling it. The first utilizes a remote control to drive the unit to a spot, label it as a point, go to the following site, and mark another end—then it will keep moving between those points. An online map shows the device’s current position and the operator clicks where they want to send it, and it goes there. Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning technology combined with drones is used in the third and final phase of development.
An emergency stop button and remote kill switch are included on the device, which can hold several hundred kg and run at up to 10 mph, matching a walker or runner’s speed.
In addition, Mr. Shaw-Sutton said the device could be adjusted to any desired height and breadth. Paths on specific farms, such as those growing fruits and vegetables, may be small; on others, they may need to be broader to accommodate tall crops. Because the electricity can be gathered from a single solar panel, we’re exploring a docking station for the device’s charging.
“While the RTU is still being tested, it is being sold to researchers, and we hope that it will have enough features in a year to be sold to a wider market.”
While working with the Agri-Tech Cornwall project, Robotriks has been part of a growing technological community at the University of Plymouth.
That includes Fieldwork Robotics, a spinoff company formed to commercialize a series of robot crop-harvesting technologies presently valued at more than $5 million.
An agri-tech project manager at the university stated, “This is technology being requested by industry, and the South West is at the forefront of delivering that demand.” Researchers at the University are increasingly using robots in ways that could profoundly impact agriculture. We’ve worked closely with Robotriks to help them grow; we believe this is only the beginning. They can form a cluster of excellence that places the South West as the hub of agricultural and technical innovation when they expand along with other rising companies.”