Robotics experts at the Manufacturing Technology Centre have developed an autonomous robot that could revolutionize agriculture. The robot, which combines robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced vision systems, can check the maturity and quality of crops and detect diseases and pests.

Farm robotics

The RoboCup project, based on the ubiquitous robotic dog Spot developed by Boston Dynamics, can significantly reduce chemicals and pesticides in agriculture, increase crop yields and improve product quality while reducing costs.

The RoboCup team worked with the UK’s largest fruit producer, Bardsley England, to demonstrate the economic, environmental, and health benefits of using advanced robotics in agriculture.

Automation experts from MTC’s Liverpool and Coventry sites developed a customized payload for Spot that enables detailed inspection of Bardsley’s fruit crops.

The robot’s computer and camera are combined with a specially designed vision system to check crop quality and ripeness and pests and diseases. Thanks to this process, chemicals are only applied where needed, eliminating the need to spray entire fields and orchards. The data collected by the robot can be visualized in real-time.

Harry Fisher, the research engineer at the MTC, said completing this phase of the RoboCup project is a proud moment.

By working with Bardsley England and Boston Dynamics, the multinational technology center has demonstrated how the use of advanced robotics can create a more sustainable and productive agricultural sector in the UK, he said. Notably, the inspection payload explicitly developed for this project can easily be used in other sectors.”

Kent-based Bardsley England has 26 sites across the UK, covering 850 hectares and employing 420 people. The company supplies 35,000 tons of fruit per year, mainly to supermarkets.

Managing director Ben Bardsley said the company’s goal is to produce carbon-neutral food and that the use of robots will help the company achieve its goal of fully automating its orchards by 2030.

We are excited to work with partners like MTC who can help us shape the future. The industry is going through a global transformation, and we need to change how we develop. Farmers do not need incentives for what they grow, they need incentives for how they grow it, and the partnerships we are forming will help us shape our future.”

The MTC’s robotics engineers worked with Boston Dynamics to leverage Spot’s abilities to traverse rugged terrain, climb stairs and get into places where most robots would fail. In addition to agriculture, the ubiquitous robot can be used on construction and infrastructure projects to increase efficiency and reduce workplace safety risks.

Based in Liverpool, the MTC is one of the few organizations globally that provides a spot for companies in all industries that want to explore how they can increase efficiency, improve their manufacturing processes and reduce risks to people working in hazardous environments.