Small robot company launches robot services at 50 farms

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The Small Robot Company (SRC) plans to roll out the UK’s first fully autonomous crop scanning service to 50 farms next season, which could reduce herbicide use by 77% and fertilizer costs by 15%.

Deployed in “service pods” for up to six local farmers over a 120ha area, the group of farmers will share the use of a single Tom scanning robot.

This will allow them to assess weed density and crop health data to create treatment maps to target specific crop areas.

Plant density information can be supplemented with other parameters such as physiology, growth stage and weather conditions, to make decisions about when and how much fertilizer to apply, and exactly where it is. necessary.

See also: How increasing organic matter helped the farm reach net zero

The new service offering includes:

  • Number of winter wheat crops and visualization per plant
  • Weed detection, geolocation and imagery by plant
  • Export of glyphosate treatment sprayers
  • Export of herbicide treatment sprayers
  • Export of fertilizer treatment sprayers

How it works?

The launch of SRC’s per-plant commercial agricultural robot services follows successful trials on three farms during this year’s fall growing season.

The trials covered 118 ha and located 446 million wheat plants, in which 4.6 million weeds were identified. Tom’s six on-board cameras, mounted on a boom, are capable of providing a ground sampling distance of 0.39 mm per pixel.

Robot Tom scans the field, understanding where each plant is and what each one needs to achieve peak performance.

The robot precisely geolocates and analyzes the data of each plant in the field, determining the precise number of plants, as well as broadleaf weeds. It can identify individual water droplets on leaves and early signs of an outbreak.

With a survey speed of 2.2 ha/hour, Tom collects 15,000 images from his cameras, or 40 GB of intelligence per plant, for each hectare.

“With rising input costs, farmers are under increasing pressure. Up to 90% of inputs are wasted. It is not economically or ecologically viable. Fertilizers alone are a major contributor to agricultural emissions,” comments Sam Watson Jones, president and co-founder of Small Robot Company.

“Robotics offers enormous leeway to bridge the gap: delivering applications by exception. Precision monitoring alone can provide immediate value, optimizing existing sprayers for herbicide and fertilizer applications. But we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential of what plant farming can offer, both in terms of saving on input costs and improving yields.

Artificial intelligence

Once Tom geotags the field data, this information is made available to farmers by SRC’s artificial intelligence advisory engine, known as Wilma, which creates treatment maps to advise farmers on the best action to take.

This information is used to inform variable rate fertilizer applications and to apply herbicides in situ through nozzle control and sectional control sprays.

For example, this season’s weed surveys revealed surprisingly few areas of the field where the density was more than one weed/m². With this information, the SRC can create heat maps so that farmers can only treat problem areas, rather than treating the entire field as a whole.

Next steps

Future services under development or testing include non-chemical robotic weeding; disease identification and export of fungicide treatment sprayers; soil sampling and survey; and the classification of grassy weeds, including foxtail.

What farmers say

Andrew Hoad, partner and manager of Waitrose’s Leckford Estate, one of the first UK farms to sign up for SRC’s robotic services

© Geoff Pugh

“This technology could be truly revolutionary and has the potential to shape the way we farm in the future. By helping us to be more precise and targeted in controlling weeds and managing pests, this new generation of agricultural robots could in turn help us protect the biodiversity on our lands and preserve the natural environment for generations. future.

Suffolk farmer and entrepreneur Tom Jewers has signed up for services for the 2022-23 season

Tom Jewers

© Tom Jewers

“We desperately need to develop ways to reduce the need for expensive plant protection products and artificial fertilizers. The ability to treat only the plants that really need it is a game changer. »

Future Oxford Farming Conference co-chairman Will Evans signed up for 2023-24 season

Will Evans

© UNF Cymru

“Small Robot Company’s vision for plant-based farming encapsulates the future of agriculture – and the scale of opportunity is enormous. We are on the cusp of enormous change. SRC’s technology is at the heart of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution. The savings that can be achieved with Robot Tom alone are impressive and this is just the first step. Robotic Action is a game changer.


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