The brains behind Small Robot Company’s team of agri-robots has been launched at REAP 2020. Wilma provides ‘per plant intelligence’, using precise information gleaned by Tom, the scouting robot, on the health of the plant. If she identifies the plant as a weed then Dick – the world’s first non-chemical robotic weeder – is dispatched to zap it.
Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Small Robot Company, explains that the robots are being trialled on three farms and their success is creating tremendous excitement among farmers that have invested in the technology.
He says: “The first commercial version of Wilma was unveiled at REAP. She creates a per-plant crop map and is then AI-enabled to recognise disease and the nutrient status of the plant, enabling precision weeding by the farmbots and, in the future, application of water, nutrients or fungicide as appropriate – cutting chemical use and emissions.
“Wilma can direct Dick on the most effective course across the field. The robot then kills the weeds, such as blackgrass, using the Rootwave technology, which is electric so there is no problem with resistance,” explains Ben.
“In a post-glycophosphate world the ability to quickly kill pernicious weeds as they appear means that farmers don’t need to wait to drill and can take the opportunity to get crops started in the better weather in early autumn. Our lightweight farmbot Harry will also be equipped to precision drill without damaging the soil.”
Small Robot Company raised £1.1 million – over 275% more than its target – in a recent crowdfunding campaign. Many of the supporters were farmers eager for the technology to become commercially available. They have been involved in testing the technology, helping to ensure that it is farm ready, and over 30 have prepaid for services.
Craig Livingstone, one of the first farmers to trial the new technology and part of the SRC Farmer Advisory Group was Farmers Weekly ‘Farmer of the Year 2018.’
He says, “Robotics offer us a real chance to answer the many questions of modern agriculture in responding to climate change, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and of course soil and food security. The light weight, low impact monitoring robot Tom is now on my farm scanning emerging wheat, for the first time giving me a per plant view of my fields.
“With the Wilma artificial intelligence, we can determine weed density and locations, and are also looking to assess potential yield. In time, by reducing the trafficking on our soil, minimising the use of pesticides, I’m convinced this can only add to more productive, functioning soils capable of producing quality nutritious food.”
The weed zapping and slug control are two initial applications for the farmbots and these applications are attracting attention in Latin America.
Slugs are a growing problem as new varieties of slug have invaded and the traditional slug pellets which contain metaldehyde or Iron (Ferric) phosphate are being withdrawn.
Tom can also detect slugs using hyperspectral imagery and artificial intelligence. It is intended that detection and mapping of slug infestations will be happening in-field in summer 2021, with Dick adding precision spraying as part of his ‘crop care service’ later in the year.
Small Robot Company previewed its Farming as a Service model at the REAP 2017 Start-Up Showcase and returned in 2018 to launch Harry, a 1.8 metre-square spider shaped robot for drilling seeds autonomously.
Ben says: “The support we have been given by Agri-TechE at REAP has been invaluable. It has helped us to quickly gain traction in the industry and gain profile for our innovation with farmers, investors and partners. We are delighted to launch Wilma at REAP 2020.”
Agri-TechE director Dr Belinda Clarke commented that agri-tech companies with disruptive technologies need to scale quickly and look for opportunities overseas. “Small Robot Company is very close to the grower community and this has helped it make such an impact. We have a good number of international organisations participating in REAP so we anticipate that the next chapter will be very exciting.”