15TH JANUARY, 2020

Science Fact: R&D and Eco-Robots

Love Pixar/Disney films? Then you’ll probably remember WALL-E, the adorable and very conscientious ‘Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class’ robot battling to clear up a dirty post-humanity planet. The film’s somewhat far-fetched of course, which is undeniably part of its appeal, but the potential for Eco-Robots themselves - unmanned machines working to improve the environment for all of us - is a distinctly real and very exciting possibility. Here we take a look at a few of them.

Robotic Fish Patrol

The state of the world’s oceans has been well covered in the media recently, and scientists are constantly working to identify where the most harmful pollution lies. Across the globe, cargo ships have been discharging chemical waste into seas and oceans and polluting the waters. Humans have for many years patrolled and monitored these pollution levels, but the process is expensive and time consuming. To help solve this problem, a robotic fleet of fish - oh yes, fish - are sent out to search for and monitor pollution in ports and other areas of the sea. These robot fish are equipped with chemical sensors which are autonomously controlled with very limited human input. This means they can detect traceable amounts of pollution and give results in real time, drastically reducing cost and time commitments - and of course saving our precious oceans.

Autonomous Weeding Robot

Herbicides and weedkillers have long been used in commercial farming to keep bug levels down and reduce weed growth. However, it’s not a very environmentally friendly way of doing things. Cutting back such chemical use would not only help the environment but it could well make food taste better too. Autonomous weeding robots might just hold the solution.

Fieldwork-ready robots are able to allocate and differentiate between plants and weeds in order to apply a tiny, pre-set amount of herbicides exactly where required. This could lead to as much as 20 times less chemical usage on average. Thanks to the use of GPS, sensory technology and cameras, robots can be fully autonomous and able to work far more hours than humans can - up to 12 a day. They’re even solar powered too.

The Treerover

Tree-planting robots are capable of autonomously planting as many as 10 trees in just 15 minutes. A spike tube is used to pierce the ground before a tree seedling is dropped from a preloaded tree cartridge. The robot then fills in the hole with a foot piston to complete the job. It’s a great way of planting but problems can occur when a robots navigates more rocky or mountainous terrains. However, this is soon fixed with just a little human input and developers are also working on making the technology more stable and capable.

This is all great - but what’s it got to do with R&D Tax Credits?

Companies investing in robotics such as this could well claim government help towards the research and development costs involved. This is via the R&D Tax Credits scheme.

The scheme was launched back in the year 2000 as an incentive to help companies grow and innovate. It works by allowing innovative UK businesses to claim a relief on their Corporation Tax, either by reducing the amount they’re liable for, or as a cash injection. All UK businesses can apply (as long as they pay UK Corporation Tax) and there’s no upper or lower limit on claim size. Loss-making companies can even claim too, and the range of costs and activities that qualify is purposefully broad. Essentially, if money has been spent on developing new products, processes or services, or making improvements to existing ones, then R&D Tax Credits could well be on the cards. It’s all about making an advancement in technology or science that a competent professional could not easily do themselves. The advancement must also be for the benefit of the industry as a whole, not just for the individual company.

The idea behind R&D tax relief is that businesses can spend the money gained on growing larger and innovating further. Taking on new staff and buying more materials for example will then ultimately boost the government’s tax take - the company benefits and so does the economy.

How much can claims be worth?

There are two branches to the R&D Tax Credits scheme - SME and RDEC. Generally speaking, companies claiming under the SME scheme must have less than €86 million in gross assets, under 500 staff and no more than €100 million in turnover. The majority of companies, including new organisations and mini start-ups, will likely come into this category. The exception would be if the company has also received government-backed financial assistance, in which case RDEC would need to be used regardless of company size. SMEs can claim back up to 33 pence for every £1 of R&D expenditure.

RDEC is typically for larger companies, plus SMEs that have previously received government assistance. A larger company in this instance must have more than €100 million in turnover, 500+ employees or more than €86 million in gross assets. It’s less generous at 10 pence per £1 spent, but businesses using this branch of the scheme tend to have much bigger claim values thanks to their larger size.

You can find out more about the different branches of the scheme as well as what costs are eligible on our R&D Tax Credits page.

Talk to the R&D tax relief experts today

If your company has completed any kind of R&D work over the last two years, then why not try out our Tax Cloud calculator to see how much relief you could receive. It’s quick and simple to use, and for many organisations the resulting cash can have game-changing effects.

With different sections for businesses and accountants, our specialist team of R&D tax advisors will work alongside you in putting together a fully maximised claim. Reach out today by calling 0207 118 6045 or using our contact page and we’ll be pleased to guide you through the claims process or answer any questions you may have.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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