The company is looking to help 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 and the environment, as well as being more efficient, precise and productive. The company claims that it can reduce chemical usage and cultivation energy in arable farming by up to 95%.
The £50,000 funding will enable the company to commercialise 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.
Harry can 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 are reimagining farming in the robotics age. With this funding we can get our Harry robot into the field, bringing us closer to our goal of creating a sustainable farming system,” says co-founder and entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson. “We want to digitise farming, making it more efficient and productive. The current ‘big farming’ monoculture model is broken, and exacts a terrible cost on our environment. With our robots, we can care for each plant individually, with no waste. We can feed the world without costing the earth.”
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.
“This will entirely change what’s possible on the farm, creating the ultimate sustainable farming model,” says co-founder Sam Watson Jones, a fourth generation farmer. “We need a farming system which is much kinder to the wider environment. Globally we know that farming is a huge energy user, a huge water user and, unfortunately, the source of a lot of pollution. Most farmers would like to be better stewards of the environment, and many work hard to reduce chemical outputs and environmental impact as far as possible. But until now the hard limitations of today’s technology have left mainstream farmers with little choice but to pollute. The tractor is a blunt tool, but now, there is a real alternative, giving farming a closer and more harmonious relationship with both nature and consumers.”