Using robotics to reduce chemicals in agriculture

The MTC helped Bardsley England increase yield, save costs on chemicals and slash emissions with autonomous crop inspection.

Key points

Agritech innovation

Increasing yield, saving chemical usage and slashing carbon emissions

Helping to protect biodiversity

Improving soil quality through early disease detection and better targeted application of pesticides


98% of widely-sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species. With around an eighth of the world’s land mass devoted to crops, this unintended chemical spread can have a real impact on global biodiversity.

Working with one of the UK’s leading fruit farm specialists, Bardsley England, the MTC investigated the benefits of advanced robotics in reducing chemical pesticides and their environmental impact by only targeting pests. Typically uneven agricultural land made this the perfect project to prove the capabilities of Boston Dynamics’ Spot® (pictured); the MTC was tasked with designing, building, and testing a specific payload to strap to the back of the walking robot.

As a test case funded by Innovate UK, the new payload used 4K cameras and on-board computing to inspect apples in Bardsley England’s orchard to determine the ripeness and quality, but most importantly detect any diseases and pests that might be prevalent. This data helps the business apply chemicals only where and when the diseases and pests are present.

Not only does this more proactive, data-led approach to farming reduce impacts on local biodiversity, it also has significant commercial advantages. Round-the-clock autonomous inspection would allow Bardsley England and other food producers to increase their crop yield and quality, save costs on chemical usage and slash carbon emissions by pivoting away from traditionally fossil-fuelled machinery. Truly a sweet spot for agricultural innovation.

Ben Bardsley, CEO, Bardsley England said:

Here at Bardsley, we are passionate about working with partners such as the MTC who can help us shape the future. The global industry is going through a great change, and we need to transform how we grow. Growers need to be incentivised not for what they grow, but how they grow it and the partnerships we are forming are helping us with our future.

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