Award-win­ning firm sees small ro­bots as fu­ture for arable

Irish Examiner - Farming - - MACHINERY AND EQUIPMENT - Ja­son Webb

Re­cent an­nounce­ments and awards gave arable farm­ers a glimpse into the fu­ture. Small Ro­bot Com­pany, a Bri­tish start-up, show­cased its pro­to­type Rachael ro­bot at the Great Fes­ti­val of In­no­va­tion in Hong Kong.

The com­pany ear­lier won the pres­ti­gious Hor­i­zon­tal In­no­va­tion Award from the UK’s In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy and High Value Man­u­fac­tur­ing Cat­a­pult (set up to help com­pa­nies bridge the gap from in­no­va­tion to com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion.

This £50,000 re­search award will help in de­vel­op­ing Harry, the com­pany’s pre­ci­sion drilling and plant­ing ro­bot, from con­cept to in-field pro­to­type. The in­no­va­tive com­pany uses ro­bots and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to im­prove how food is pro­duced, and to min­imise chem­i­cal us­age.

The tech­nol­ogy is built on 15 years of ro­bot­ics re­search by Pro­fes­sor Si­mon Black­more, the lead­ing ex­pert on pre­ci­sion farm­ing at Harper Adams Uni­ver­sity. Au­ton­omy, geo-lo­ca­tion, ob­sta­cle avoid­ance, naviwe gation, and ac­cu­rate po­si­tion­ing within 2cm are built into the Small Ro­bot Com­pany’s Rachael, Tom, Dick and Harry farm­bots.

Harry’s com­mer­cial trial is an­tic­i­pated for Oc­to­ber 2018. It is de­signed to ac­cu­rately place seeds in­di­vid­u­ally in the ground at a uni­form depth, and cre­ate a plant level map show­ing the lo­ca­tion of each seed, thus en­abling farm­ing to be digi­tised.

Ben Scott-Robin­son, co­founder, Small Ro­bot Com­pany said, “Small Ro­bot Com­pany is ex­cited to ex­plore how can pro­vide an arable crop ser­vice that brings ben­e­fit across the world.

”Rice re­mains the sin­gle most im­por­tant food crop glob­ally. But labour shortages, chem­i­cal overuse and im­prov­ing yield are all on­go­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.” “Be­ing able to pro­vide pre­ci­sion and au­to­ma­tion for rice would not just be a step for­ward in farm­ing, it will rev­o­lu­tionise agri­cul­ture for half the world’s pop­u­la­tion.” But the first crop Small Ro­bot Com­pany will fo­cus on is wheat.

One of a team of ro­bots for arable farm­ing, Tom, above, mon­i­tors fields plant by plant, keep­ing track of their health and devel­op­ment.

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