The Aqualife development team. From left: Lars Thom (design engineer), Kristian Clezy (head engineer), Susanne Drennan (design engineer), Phil Brown (technical director). Photo: Aqualife.

Vaccinator's cash injection for ‘transformational’ robot

A partnership between Stirling-based fish vaccination company Aqualife and the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) at Edinburgh Technopole, Penicuik is set to help increase fish health, welfare and productivity in the aquaculture sector.

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With support from Agri-EPI, Aqualife – the world’s largest fish vaccination company -  has won £250,000 funding from the Seafood Innovation Fund awarded by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), to develop and launch a “transformational” fish vaccinating robot by the end of next year.

The Incubot 2 robot will be able to vaccinate fish at sizes below 20 grams, as opposed to the common weight of between 30g and 120g, allowing producers to increase productivity by growing their fish out of hatcheries far sooner. It will be capable of vaccinating most species of farmed fish, in large numbers.

Mobile platform

Incubot 2 will be a mobile platform, allowing Aqualife to offer automated vaccination to smaller fish farms which cannot afford to invest in large scale immobile systems, Aqualife and Agri-EPI said in a press release.

The robot will also help to improve fish quality using artificial intelligence and “deep learning” algorithms to increase vaccination accuracy and improve fish grading.

Aqualife chief executive Gordon Jeffrey said: “The aquaculture industry in Scotland aims to double its economic contribution from an estimated £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6 billion by 2030. To achieve this, it must develop solutions to reduce fish losses, most of which result from disease.

Innovative products

“Health and welfare issues have also attracted public attention. Aqualife wishes to play a key role in transforming the industry by embedding engineering excellence within our company to offer a range of truly innovative products and services. This grant ensures we will be able to do that.”

He added that Agri-EPI and its project manager Phil Cassidy had played a key role in the company winning the grant.

“From initially pointing us in the direction of the competition to hands on helping us to prepare the application, Phil and the Centre have been crucial,” said Jeffrey.

Cassidy said: “Agri-EPI aims to stimulate collaboration and innovation to support sustainable food production and this project is a fine example of this. We look forward to managing the project to develop Inocubot 2.”