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Robotic farming services rolling out to more than 50 farms this fall
by Ben Wodecki
Small Robot Company is Britain’s first fully autonomous crop-scanning service.
Small Robot Company (SRC) has launched Britain’s first fully autonomous crop-scanning service with a plan to roll out its commercial Per Plant Farming robot services to 50 farms this fall for the 2022-2023 growing season.
Using AI and robotics, SRC is focused on sustainable farming with its Per Plant Farming model that uses a trio of robots, which the company says cuts herbicide applications by around 77% and fertilizer applications by 15%.
SRC’s farming robots Tom, Dick and Harry can plant, monitor and treat crops autonomously, with minimal waste.
The Tom monitoring robot . maneuvers a farmer's field and identifies potential irritants like weeds. Its six onboard cameras provide a ground sample distance of 0.39 mm per pixel – letting the unit see individual water droplets on leaves and early signs of a disease outbreak.
Dick will then inspect each potential weed and zaps them with electricity, without using chemicals. Wilma, the company's AI Advice Engine, then creates treatment maps to advise farmers on the best actions to take.
The startup says its AI-augmented approach enables farmers to improve crop health while using fewer fertilizers.
Sam Watson Jones, SRC’s president and co-founder, says with input costs on the rise, farmers are increasingly under pressure.
“Up to 90% of inputs are wasted,” he said. “This is not economically or environmentally viable. Fertilizer alone is a major contributor to agricultural emissions. Robotics gives huge scope to close the gap: delivering applications by exception. Precision monitoring alone can provide immediate value, optimizing existing sprayers for herbicide and fertilizer applications.”
SRC’s launch followed trials on three farms during the Autumn 2021 to 2022 growing season. Those trials covered 118 hectares locating 446 million wheat plants and identifying 4.6 million weeds.
Tom Jewers, a farmer and contractor in Suffolk signed up for the services for the 2022-2023 season. He suggested the farming industry "desperately need[s] to develop ways to reduce the need for expensive plant protection products and artificial fertilizers."
“The ability to treat only the plants that actually need it is game-changing,” Jewers added.