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UK’s first ‘robot fleet’ takes shape

Posted on 20 Feb 2020 and read 1855 times
UK’s first ‘robot fleet’ takes shapeSmall Robot Company (SRC), a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, has announced plans for its first ‘robot fleet’ in Britain.

The initial fleet of 10 robots will be manufactured by Tharsus, a UK machine and robot designer and manufacturer. The first of the fleet will be ready for commercial service in October.

Tharsus will ‘finesse’ the ‘Tom’ monitoring robot prototype design for eventual mass production in Blyth, Northumberland, working with SRC on the industrial design process.

Tom will deliver SRC’s first commercial weed-mapping service, and the company is planning to ‘manage’ around 2,000 hectares with the new Tom robots by January 2021.

Customers signed up to use the new robots include Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust, which is looking to expand its use of robots at its farms.

Early field trials are already underway on 20 farms in the UK, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate and Waitrose & Partners’ Leckford Estate.

Tom’s per plant view of the field is the initial foundation for SRC’s commercial non-chemical weeding service, which uses the monitoring robot to first locate the weeds.

The weed-zapping service is anticipated to be available from autumn 2021. Other benefits from the mapping service include yield predictions and measuring herbicide efficacy.

SRC (www.smallrobotcompany.com) says its mission is to maximise food production, while reducing its environmental cost.

Using robotics and artificial intelligence, it has created a new model for “ecologically harmonious, efficient and profitable farming”. Its ‘farmbots’ — Tom, Dick and Harry — will soon be planting, monitoring and treating arable crops autonomously.

John Toal, director of business development at Tharsus, said: “SRC is an archetype of a radical disruptor.

“The company is changing the face of an industry that is experiencing significant economic and environmental challenges by proposing to do things differently — significantly so.

“Our engagement melds together their vision, ambition and inventiveness with our own experience of creating commercially successful products.”

Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s head of Farming and Soils, added: “Technology needs to play a big part in solving many of the issues we currently face in farming — particularly improving soil health and carbon sequestration, reducing our reliance on fossil-fuel power and fertilisers and avoiding the adverse impacts of synthetic chemicals on the environment.

“We have started small robot trials at Wimpole and intend to extend trials to other estates in the near future.”