Small Robot fleet to be manufactured in the UK by Tharsus

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The agritech start-up, Small Robot Company, has announced industrial design and manufacture of its first robot fleet in Britain. The initial fleet of 10 robots will be manufactured by Tharsus, the UK advanced machine and robots designer and manufacturer.

Tharsus has said that it will 'finesse' the company's ‘Tom’ monitoring robot prototype design for eventual mass production in Blyth, Northumberland, working together with Small Robot Company (SRC) on a rigorous industrial design process. Tharsus manufactures Ocado’s warehouse robots for global sale.

‘Tom’ is delivering Smart Robot Company's (SRC), first commercial service for weed mapping and it is planning to service around 2000 hectares with the new ‘Tom’ robots by January 2021. Customers signed up to use the robots include Waitrose and the National Trust, who is looking to expand its use of robots across its farms. Early field trials are already underway in 20 farms across the UK, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate and Waitrose Leckford Estate.

Tom’s per plant view of the field is the initial foundation for SRC’s commercial non-chemical weeding service, which uses the monitoring robot to first locate the weeds. The weed zapping service is anticipated to be available from autumn 2021. Other benefits from the mapping service include yield predictions and measurement of herbicide efficacy.

SRC says that its mission is to maximise food production while reducing its cost on the environment. Using robotics and artificial intelligence, it has created an entirely new model for ecologically balanced, efficient and profitable farming. Its farmbots Tom, Dick and Harry are able to plant, monitor and treat arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.

“The global opportunity is huge. This is a fourth agricultural revolution, and British technology is leading the charge. We’re currently first to market, so it’s absolutely crucial that we get our commercial delivery right,” commented Sam Watson Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company. “This is a massive step in scaling up our robots for the mass market. Our focus for our robotics business is very much on design and innovation - and service.

Agriculture is a $2.4 trillion industry, with the precision farming market a huge global opportunity for investors. Goldman Sachs predicts that the market for digital agricultural technology will be $240 billion by 2050, up from just over $5 billion today.

SRC's current go-to-market strategy looks to deliver its Farming as a Service (FaaS) in three stages. The next stage is to deliver non-chemical robotic weed detection and control for 8000 hectares wheat crops in 2021. This will be scaled up to service 20,000 hectares in the UK by 2023, which comprises the 70 UK farms who have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the service, before then expanding to cover 80,000 Hectares across the UK, US and Canada. The total global addressable market is 177 million arable farms across 6.2bn hectares.

Tom will cover 20 hectares per day autonomously, collecting about 6 terabytes of data. He can distinguish plant details at submillimetre resolution, with less than one millimetre per pixel resolution on the ground. He is robust and weather-proof and can be used all year round. The next generation Tom also incorporates increased speed, 5K camera capacity and extended battery life.

SRC's work is funded by the government’s Innovate UK grant programme, with more than £1 million funding committed to date. This includes an £800,000 grant for its ‘Wilma’ artificial intelligence weed recognition and ‘Tom’ weed mapping technology - one of the largest single agritech grants made under Innovate UK’s innovation scheme in 2018.