Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agriculture robotics startup, will be launching its agricultural robots at around 50 farms over the course of the 2022-2023 growing season.
SRC’s robotic solution going to work on the farms involves two parts:
- Tom, a plant monitoring robot able to see down to the individual water droplets on a plant’s leaves
- Wilma, the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) Advice Engine. The service optimizes existing sprayer equipment to reduce costs and inputs
Tom autonomously maps and monitors fields of crops. The robot scans fields with its six on-board cameras, mounted on a boom, and builds an understanding of where each plant in the field is located. Tom is able to give a ground sample distance of .39 mm per pixel, so it’s able to search for early signs of disease outbreak.
Wilma uses the information Tom gathers to create treatment maps that can advise farms on the best action to take, with information down to each individual plant. The maps can be used to inform variable rate fertilizer applications and to spot-apply herbicides through nozzle control and sectional control sprays.
“We desperately need to develop ways to reduce the need for expensive plant protection products and artificial fertilizers,” said Tom Jewers, who is a member of the SRC farmer advisory board and farmer and contractor in Suffolk. “The ability to treat only the plants that actually need it is game-changing.”
With the system, farmers can assess weed density information to make no spray decisions, reducing herbicide used by around 77%. The robot also allows farms to assess crop health and performance, cutting fertilizer cost by 15%.
Last year, during the 2021-2022 growing season, SRC completed trials on three farms, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate and the Lockery Estate, owned by the Sainsbury Family. These trials covered 118 hectares with 446 million wheat plants, where the system identified 4.6 million weeds.
“This technology could be truly groundbreaking and has the potential to shape how we farm in the future,” said Andrew Hoad, partner and head of Waitrose’s Leckford Estate, one of the first UK farms to sign up for SRC’s robotic services. “By helping us be more precise and targeted in controlling weeds and managing pests, this next generation of farming robots could in turn help us protect biodiversity on our land and preserve the natural environment for future generations.”