Following the arrival of Spot® the Robotic Dog in Liverpool in October 2020, the MTC has recently won Innovate UK funding for its project focussing on the reduction of the use of chemicals in the agricultural sector.
By utilising the capability of Spot® to perform tasks with precision, and ultimately reducing the amount of chemicals used, the project will seek to highlight the environmental, health and commercial benefits that are realised when using robots in these practices.
Studies have found that over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, because they are sprayed or spread across entire agricultural fields.
One of the UK's leading fruit farming specialists, and partners in the project, Bardsley England suggests that utilising robotics could see a 20-25% reduction in the use of inputs such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers, and could reduce crop loss due to pests or disease by around 10-15%.
“We are on a mission to grow carbon negative food, this project brought to us by MTC is exactly what we need for the future”
Antony Yousefian, AgTech Director of Bardsley England.
The use of in-field robotics can help to speed up feedbacks and enable a proactive approach. Reducing inputs like pesticides can lead to an improvement in the soil quality and biodiversity, improving yields and their resilience.
The project, led by experts from the Manufacturing Technology Centre, will design, build and test a payload for Spot® that will be used for agricultural inspection activities and demonstrate the positive impact that robotics can have on the sector and the wider environment. The project will aim to help farmers who want to reduce pesticide usage while increasing crop yield by proving the positive impact robotics can have on this and to also reduce the labour cost of inspection and subsequently freeing up resource for value added tasks.
Spot®, developed by Boston Dynamics, arrived on Merseyside on an ‘open-access’ basis for an initial 12-month period in 2020 and the MTC is one of the few organisations in the world to make it available to organisations from any sector. It has a fully customisable modular platform that means it can be reconfigured for various uses to increase efficiency and greatly reduce safety risks in the workplace. It is the robot that can get where many others cannot and can increase efficiencies and greatly reduce human risk in dangerous working environments.
On the importance of this project and the recent announcement, Joel Kellam, Advanced Research Engineer at MTC Liverpool, said: “This is a major moment for the MTC and the Spot® project. By funding a project such as this, we are now able to demonstrate how the MTC and the expertise that we have at our disposal can positively impact the agricultural sector at a time where the sector is suffering from unsustainable inspection techniques.“
He added “By utilising the MTC’s extensive mobile robotics experience to develop an inspection payload to integrate with Spot®, we aim to be able to further demonstrate the MTC as a leader in advanced robotic systems and prove the impact on society of using robotics to reduce the use of chemicals within the agricultural sector in a way that is also financially beneficial to the sector, ensuring wider uptake of technology.”
Through the automation of the inspection of individual plants, this project will also look to prove that farmers can significantly reduce the waste produced in harvesting. This in turn will contribute towards the sustainability goals of the MTC through automation and digital technologies and prove the benefits of quadruped robots in rugged terrain environments.
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