The company plan to make farms more profitable, and increase yield and efficiency, through using small robots instead of tractors. Its arable farming robots Tom, Dick and Harry will enable farmers to be kinder to soil, kinder to the environment, more efficient, more precise and more productive. It will also reduce chemical usage and cultivation energy in arable farming by up to 95%.
The £50,000 backing on Indiegogo is going towards commercialising Harry, its digital planting robot. Harry recently won a prestigious Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) to develop the prototype technology.
However, additional funding is needed to accelerate development in order to hold commercial trials this growing season in October 2018.
Harry will accurately place seed individually in the ground at a uniform depth to within 2cm accuracy, creating a plant level map showing the location of each seed. By punch-planting rather than ploughing, Harry will also radically reduce soil run off and associated water pollution.
“We want to revolutionise the way that technology is used to create food, reducing its terrible cost on the environment,” says co-founder and entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson. “Current arable farming methods, in particular ploughing and blanket spraying, are extremely harmful to the environment. Unfortunately, if you treat the whole field the same, overuse of chemicals is inevitable. So we are transforming farming with robots and artificial intelligence.”
Small Robot Company’s robots work alongside AI ‘nervous system’ Wilma to ‘digitise the field’ and provide a granular digital view of the farm. The robots will only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the perfect levels nutrients and support, with no waste. This will minimise chemical usage in farming by up to 95%.
Its precision farming technology allows a level of autonomy, accuracy and detail that now makes it possible to provide precise care on a per plant basis, and for 10x better decision making. It will take in the sum of all farming knowledge, including agronomy, soil science and market conditions, coupled with aggregated big data from all farms across the country, and apply it to the information gathered about the crop.
Eventually, each process – from knowing when to plant, to all aspects of crop care, to knowing when to harvest – will be automated.
“Our vision is to automate and digitise arable crop farming,” says co-founder Sam Watson Jones, a fourth generation farmer. “Farming is arguably the last analogue industry. The potential for efficiency here is phenomenal, and the environmental benefits this then bestows are immense. Simply put, it’s the ability to apply permaculture techniques at scale. It’s the ultimate sustainable farming model.”
“Feeding an estimated extra 2.2 billion people living on planet earth by 2050 is going to be one of the biggest challenges we face in the future,” says Alan Howard, the IET’s Design and Manufacturing Lead. “This brilliant idea from Small Robot Company, with its ingenious application of robotics and automation technologies, could provide a vital and secure source of food to help feed the world”.