With the UK agricultural industry facing unprecedented challenges, such as the increasing global population, pressure to achieve Net Zero and a dearth of agri-food labourers, AI and robotics may provide the key to unlocking agriculture’s productivity.
Agricultural robots can undertake short-cycle repetitive tasks that currently make inefficient use of resources; by undertaking tasks that can be costly and limited, or reliant on large diesel-based machinery, agro-chemicals or human labour, cleaner, smarter robotics could enable the feeding of future societies.
The future of farming
In an exciting development for robotics’ use in British agriculture, UK-based startup Antobot, developer of affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture, has secured £1.2 million in their seed funding round following a strategic investment from a leading automotive electronics solutions provider in China, Intron Technology Holdings Ltd.
Founded by embedded controls and robotics experts, Antobot is developing innovative vertically-integrated robotics AI solutions optimised for agriculture aiming to increase efficiency and sustainability whilst maintaining accessibility and affordability with products expected in the market in 2022.
Smart, sustainable solutions
Antobot’s first product line is its fully integrated automotive-grade universal Robot Control Unit (uRCU®), the “brain” of the robot. Once requiring multiple separate modules, the uRCU®’s sophisticated design combines the core hardware and advanced software for agri-robotic applications in one compact single unit.
Antobot’s CEO, Howard Eu, explains: “The integrated design makes the uRCU® smaller, more reliable and affordable than other existing solutions, and the full-stack AI also confers performance benefits with its universal, configurable design that can adapt to different farmer needs.”
This funding will also enable Antobot to develop various full applications using its modular platform, starting with its scouting robot, Insight. Focusing initially on the £875 million UK fruit sector, Insight travels autonomously through the farm and, using artificial intelligence, gathers accurate, timely and rich data for deeper insight into crop yield, profile, and pest/disease management.
Unlike manual scouting or scouting using large heavy machinery, Insight is powered by renewable energy and does not require any labour. Working with a selection of partner farms in England, Insight will be trialled in UK fields this summer of 2021.
“The development of Insight has been directly informed by the experiences of our partner fruit-growers in the UK and understanding their concerns over achieving Net Zero and the loss of agri-labour,” said Marc Jones, Business Director at Antobot.
“Insight will provide accurate yield forecasts, real-time crop management and digitisation of the supply chain using this early growth-stage data, which can give growers greater weight in contract negotiations, decrease avoidable food waste and enable more efficient use of limited labour.”
Supporting innovation in agri-tech
From its inception, Antobot has been supported by various organisations including Agri-TechE, Agri-EPI, Innovate UK, Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, St John’s Innovation Centre, ideaSpace of Cambridge University, and Anglia Ruskin University. This strategic investment from Intron Technology will provide valuable support in supply chain, manufacturing and quality assurance to bring Antobot’s uRCU® and Insight to market in 2022.
Eddie Chan, Co-CEO and Executive Director of Intron Technology, said of the investment: “We are strongly committed to Research and Development at Intron, particularly when promoting sustainability. And we are looking forward to working with Antobot, learning from each other, and helping Antobot grow into the leading force in the agricultural robotics sector we know it can be.”
To find out more about Antobot, visit their website and to see more of our work supporting innovation in agri-tech, and see how you can benefit from Agri-EPI Centre’s support, visit our project pages.