The UK's first global centre of excellence in agri-robotics research has received a major kickstart with the announcement of £6.4 million of Government funding.
Lincoln Agri-Robotics will be established at the University of Lincoln as a major new research centre bringing together world-leading expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence and agriculture together.
The University of Lincoln is already spearheading the development of next-generation robots for agri-food production, which will help streamline processes from farm to fork.
This new funding, from the UK Government's Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund through Research England, recognises the university's commitment to supporting farms of the future.
The Government's E3 Fund is designed to support the strategic expansion of outstanding research units in universities across England and focusses only on areas where research excellence already exists.
Lincoln Agri-Robotics will expand two of the University of Lincoln's specialist research groups – the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT) and the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (LCAS) – bringing together the groups' scientists into one specialist organisation.
The new centre will fuse robotics and artificial intelligence expertise with that from agriculture and other disciplines such as food manufacturing, engineering, life sciences and social sciences.
Prof. Andrew Hunter, Lincoln's deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation, said: "Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined - and supporting a food chain which generates a Gross Value Added (GVA) of £113 billion, with 3.9 million employees in a truly international industry.
It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years to meet significantly increased global demand, but there is still so much research and development to be done.
"The creation of Lincoln Agri-Robotics is therefore extremely timely and positions Lincolnshire, and the UK, at the leading edge of research innovations in this truly global industry.
"RAAI [robotics, automation and artificial intelligence] technologies will facilitate a step change in agricultural productivity while reducing environmental impact, and this new centre of excellence will be at the forefront of that change."
Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore added: "Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and conquering new innovations are what our universities are known for the world over.
"This programme led by the University of Lincoln will give the UK another world first in Lincoln's centre for research into farming robotics."
How the money will be spent
Research at Lincoln Agri-Robotics 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.
The £6.4million grant will enable the university to establish headquarters for the research centre, develop a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure, create specialist RAAI facilities and strengthen its pool of world-leading robotics researchers by bringing a number of new academic experts to the institution.
Earlier this year, the University of Lincoln was awarded more than £6.6million by the EPSRC to establish the world's first Centre for Doctoral Training for agri-food robotics.
The centre will train at least 50 doctoral students and deliver a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry.