Agri-robots twice the ‘brain’ power in a third of the size

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Smaller, faster, cheaper and more durable intelligent mobile robots will be possible with Antobot Ltd technology, which offers twice the ‘brain’ power of commercially available mobile robots in a third of the size. The company has recently been awarded Innovate UK and Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative grants to help develop its mobile agriculture robot prototypes.

Antobot Ltd is a robotics technology company, with teams in Cambridge UK and China, which is focused on the control hardware and software development for intelligent mobile robots. It presented as part of the Start-Up Showcase at the Agri-TechE REAP 2020 conference.

Antobot’s founder, Howard Wu, explains: “Our first commercial product will be a highly compact four-wheel-drive scouting robot capable of counting fruits and determining fruit ripeness and size, whilst also mapping fruiting locations in three dimensions to allow picking at a later stage.

“Small ground-based machines are able to fit into narrow spaces between plants to map fruit location in detail, and being light also prevents soil compaction. But the challenge of building very small robots is the requirement for a smaller control unit. 

“Our universal Robot Control Unit (uRCU®) achieves twice as much ‘brain’ power as the current market leading mobile robot company, despite being just 1/3rd the size,” says Wu. “We also offer our uRCU to other robotics companies, to accelerate their robotics application development.”

The product is based on two core software packages: AntMove™, a GPS- and Lidar-based autonomous driving software, and AntVision™, a total fruit monitoring software built on intelligent computer vision guided by Deep Neural Network. AntVision can count fruits or determine fruit ripeness and size, whilst also mapping fruiting locations in three dimensions to allow automated fruit picking. 

The company has designed a unique thermal management system, which has allowed Antobot to combine traditionally stand-alone sensors onto a single board. The company is also filing patents in functional safety mechanisms, to ensure a safer operation in the field. 

“Our international approach gives us access to UK, European and Chinese markets, which has allowed us to create a number of strong relationships this year,” says Wu, whose colleague, Dr Ke Lu, is based in Shanghai.

“There are well-known labour shortages in the UK agricultural sector. Reports over the past two years show 30% of labour vacancies remaining unfilled,” says Wu, who is based in Cambridge, UK. “Antobot’s response is to create a more affordable solution for the farmer, by automating some of the labour-intensive manual processes.

“In China, we are talking with farmers in two major provinces to understand their needs. As salaries increase, and more and more young people transition away from rural living, alternative means of agricultural labour will be required and there is very good appetite for agricultural robotics.”

As these core packages enter final test and validation stages, and the first batches of the compact universal Robot Control Unit enter production, Antobot is aiming to have its first agriculture robot prototype, the Antobot Scout, available in 2021. 

Antobot presented in the REAP Start-Up Showcase to meet farmers, agriculture robotics companies, and potential investors. 

Looking ahead to REAP, Wu commented: “We are looking forward to talking to farmers at the REAP conference, to understand more about their pain-points and the solutions they’re looking for to lower labour costs and mitigate shortages.”

Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, says: “In the crowded agri-robotics market, Antobot is focussing on affordability and providing a platform solution to differentiate itself. It’s particularly exciting to see the application of expertise from other sectors into agriculture and the company is ground-truthing the potential application with farmers.”

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