SlugBot, an exciting new project that aims to develop an innovative robotic technology for autonomous slug monitoring and precision treatment of bio-molluscicides, will enter field trials next year.
SlugBot offers, for the first time, the potential for controlling slugs after the main pesticide metaldehyde is withdrawn from use. It is the result of a collaboration between Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), Small Robot Company, COSMONiO and AV and N Lee.
The precision-spraying prototype is due to enter early field trials in summer 2021.
Slugs are major agricultural and horticultural pests worldwide. Current control methods rely on traditional chemical pellets, containing either metaldehyde or iron (Ferric) phosphate. Bio-molluscicides are also available in the form of the nematode products, however these are not economical for use in arable crops. The resulting over-reliance on metaldehyde has had a negative impact on UK water systems, as well as on non-target organisms, such as birds and mammals, and there have been moves to ban its use.
The initiative is led by Dr Jenna Ross from UK Agri-Tech Innovation Centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), in collaboration with the Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming; COSMONiO, a British artificial intelligence start-up; and Devon based farming enterprise, AV and N Lee. The project is funded by Innovate UK.
Dr Ross said “I travelled the world in 2018 as a Nuffield Farming scholar and noticed a gap in the market for autonomous slug monitoring. In addition, bio-molluscicides are currently too expensive for use in arable crops. Therefore, this game-changing project fills a market demand and opens up an exciting opportunity for farmers.
“The project brings together expertise from our CHAP network of partners, along with input from Small Robot Company, who will deliver expertise in in robotics, mechanical and electrical engineering, COSMONiO, who will assist with artificial intelligence and machine learning through their NOUS AI platform, and AV and N Lee, who will provide the land for field trials and input from the farming community.”
Ben Scott-Robinson of Small Robot Company comments: “Robotic slug control is a natural next step for Small Robot Company. Precision robotics has tremendous potential for agriculture across the board. Slugs are a terrible bane for farmers. They can decimate emerging crops and have a significant impact on yield. But treatment is problematic. Both water and wildlife have been impacted by chemical methods. Legislation is looming – farmers need an affordable alternative.”
James Lee, farmer and partner of AV and N Lee, said “It is brilliant to be involved with a project that has farmers involved from the get-go. This is important when addressing key agricultural challenges, such as slug control, and vital for technology uptake.”