British ‘agri-tech’ start-up launches Indiegogo campaign to "transform" farming

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Small Robot Company, a British ‘agri-tech’ start-up for sustainable farming has launched its Indiegogo campaign to fund its digital planting robot ‘Harry’.

According to Small Robot Company, 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 adds it will also reduce chemical usage and cultivation energy in arable farming by up to 95%.

The Small Robot Company is seeking £50,000 backing on Indiegogo to commercialise Harry, which recently won a 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.

The company says 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 should also 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, 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. We are transforming farming with robots and artificial intelligence.”

Small Robot Company’s robots work alongside artificial intelligent (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.

According to the Small Robot Company, its precision farming technology allows a level of autonomy, accuracy and detail that makes it possible to provide precise care on a per plant basis, and for 10 times 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.

The idea is that, 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. “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,” adds Alan Howard, the IET’s Design and Manufacturing Lead. “This idea from Small Robot Company could provide a vital and secure source of food to help feed the world.”