Frontier IP Group PLC (LON:FIPP) saw its shares jump in lunchtime trading Monday after its portfolio company, Fieldwork Robotics, secured a collaboration agreement with UK soft-fruit grower Hall Hunter Partnership to test a raspberry harvesting robot.
The AIM-listed investment firm, which specialises in commercialising university intellectual property (IP), said under the agreement Fieldwork would prototype and field test the robot system, allowing the technology to be refined by working in a range of environments such as fields and polytunnels, with tests expected to begin later this year.
Hall Hunter Partnership grows 14,000 tonnes of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Its major customers include Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.
Frontier added that once the system had been successfully tested with raspberries, among the softest and most easily damageable fruits, it could be adapted to other fruits and vegetables. The company also said proof-of-concept robots were being developed for other crops following interest from other leading agribusinesses.
“Hall Hunter are the UK’s largest grower of raspberries…so they’re clearly a large player in the sector,” says Neil Crabb, chief executive of Frontier IP, adding that the area is one of “significant potential growth” and that there is “increasing automation in the agricultural sector” around the world.
Crabb adds that as raspberries are the most fragile soft fruit to be picked, a positive field test picking would allow an expansion in the robot’s use into firmer fruit and vegetables including blueberries and strawberries.
Frontier IP currently holds a 27.5% stake in Fieldwork Robotics after increasing its stake from 21% in April 2018.
Frontier IP shares were up 5.7% at 74p.
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