The research will focus on autonomous agri-robots that can efficiently tend, harvest and quality control high-value crops with reduced human intervention.
A £6.4 million grant has been awarded for the creation of the UK’s first ever global agri-robotics centre.
Lincoln Agri-Robotics, a major new research centre of excellence at the University of Lincoln’s working farm, will expand two of its specialist research groups, the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT) and the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (LCAS), to fuse artificial intelligence expertise with that from agriculture, food manufacturing, engineering, life sciences and social sciences.
The research will focus on autonomous agri-robots that can efficiently tend, harvest and quality control high-value crops with reduced human intervention, improving agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability and addressing the demands of a growing population.
It will also work to streamline and maximise processes throughout the entire food industry, from farm-to-fork.
Lincoln’s deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation Professor Andrew Hunter said: “Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £113 billion, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.
“It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, as producers adapt to meet significantly increased global demand, but there is still so much research and development to be done.”
The research centre will be one of 13 Government-backed projects to benefit from a share of the government’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) £76m for work on ground-breaking research, supporting the expansion of outstanding research units.
Projects will include speeding up crop production to create environmentally-friendly offices and homes, and how engineering enzymes could break down common single-use plastics.
It follows a £6.6m award to the University of Lincoln by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish the world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training for agri-food robotics – which will train at least 50 doctoral students and deliver robotics expertise.
The E3 funding, through the modern Industrial Strategy, contributes to the Government’s commitment to raise public and private sector R&D spend to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.