BT reveals role of robotics, IoT to transform and automate agriculture

First fruits revealed of leading UK telco’s dedicated telecoms civil engineering robotics test facility, designed to help fibre network development

Almost a year after opening a robotics research facility at its renowned Martlesham Heath research and development centre to speed the deployment of essential infrastructure, BT has announced it has developed a robotics platform and management system as part of the Innovate UK-funded Robot Highways project.

The project aims to illustrate how a fleet of robots with various roles can interact and cooperate to form a robust and highly efficient supply chain operation, and is designed to explore the use of the internet of things (IoT) and robotics in smart agriculture to drive automation, increase efficiency and improve environmental sustainability.

The robotics research facility covers more than 5,000 ft² at the BT site in the east of England, and has the stated mission of placing the UK at the forefront of a new era of robotics development for telecoms and civil engineering.

It is also built to play a key role for BT in working with the university sector and other utilities to trial a new range of UK-developed robotics that are applicable to telecoms and utility sector civil engineering challenges worldwide.

As part of this, and in response to the challenges facing the industry, BT and partners have demonstrated a vision of the future of soft fruit farming, where robotics, powered exclusively by renewable energy sources, will assist farmers by carrying out essential, energy-intensive, physical farm processes.

These include picking and packing fruit, as well as treating crops to reduce common pests and diseases. By bringing together robotics and IoT, the project consortium said it has shown how key agricultural processes can be optimised through improving forecasting accuracy, increasing farm productivity, reducing farm labour, and reducing fruit waste and fungicide use.

BT has developed and tested the edge and cloud architecture to deliver the infrastructure through which these IoT services can operate. The technology, employed by Robot Highways, will also go towards supporting the industry’s sustainability efforts to reduce fossil fuel use across all farming operations, helping to move the sector towards a carbon-zero future.

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“We’re delighted to be part of the Robot Highways project to demonstrate how BT can help the agricultural sector to automate by integrating robotics and other solutions on a single platform,” said BT chief researcher John Davies. “As a leader in network-based platforms and edge infrastructure, we are ideally placed to support advanced robotic farming operations.”

The project is led by Saga Robotics, alongside BT, and partners University of Lincoln, Berry Gardens Growers Ltd, Clock House Farm, University of Reading and the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

Anne Dingstad, CEO of Saga Robotics, said: “We’re welcoming BT’s interest and support to help provide solutions that advance agricultural robotics in the UK. Connectivity plays a key part to advance automation and precision agriculture and to enable increased food production with less resources.”

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