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Robotics Research
Posted on December 4, 2018 by

Sustainable farming robots with AI

Small Robot Company aims 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%. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038.
Just one year on from its launch, the company already has three prototype robots, and an early version of the artificial intelligence. Field trials are currently in progress in 20 farms across the United Kingdom, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate.
The company recently won The Drum Social Purpose Award in the Best Use of Technology Category category on account of the positive social impact and environmental benefits of its technology. The award follows Small Robot Company's win earlier this year of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards. It won the BT Connected Society category on account of the positive social impact and environmental benefits of its technology.
"We're thrilled at such prestigious recognition for our work to create the ultimate sustainable farming model. With our robots we will be able to produce an abundance of food with minimal environmental impact. Feeding the world, without costing the earth," says Small Robot Company co-founder Ben Scott-Robinson. "Agriculture is one of the biggest global polluters, costing the economy up to $800 billion per year for fertiliser run off alone. The current farming system is wasteful on an industrial scale. Unfortunately, if you treat the whole field the same, waste is inevitable. A more ecologically harmonious way of farming is vital for the future of our planet."
Smart Farming with Artificial Intelligence
Using artificial intelligence, IoT and cloud technologies, 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%.
Following extensive field trials, and artificial intelligence training with partner Cosmonio over the last six months, Wilma can already distinguish Wheat plants from 'Not-Wheat', meaning any images of items that are not wheat plants.
Small Robot Company developed its prototype robot Harry, unveiled earlier this month, with a prestigious Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC).
"We're making phenomenal progress with our mission to deliver ecologically harmonious, efficient and sustainable farming. Just one year on from our foundation, we are already geared up to deliver early prototypes for trial in 2019," said Sam Watson Jones, co-founder of Small Robot Company and a fourth generation Shropshire farmer. "This will entirely change what's possible on the farm, and how we think about farming. Ultimately, it's permaculture at scale."
"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".
Source and top image: Small Robot Company
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