Small Robot Company, a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, today announced previews of an early version of Wilma, its Artificial Intelligence (AI) interface. This was shown both at the East of England farming conference in Cambridge and at the highly prestigious WiredLive Innovation Festival in London. Wilma is the core of an intelligent, autonomous crop management system for arable farming.
Following extensive field trials, and artificial intelligence training with partner Cosmonio over the last six months, Wilma can already distinguish Wheat plants from ‘Not-Wheat’, meaning any images of items that are not wheat plants.
Small Robot Company harnesses the power and precision of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced and minimise chemical usage. It will make farms more profitable, and increase yield and efficiency, through using small robots instead of tractors.
Wilma is a sophisticated, granular 'operating system' of crop and soil monitoring and care which will enable each plant in the field to be cared for individually, with no waste. Directed by Wilma, its Tom, Dick and Harry robots will only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the perfect levels nutrients and support. This will cut chemicals and emissions by up to 95%.
“This will entirely change what’s possible on the farm, and how we think about farming,” said Sam Watson Jones, co-founder of Small Robot Company and a fourth generation Shropshire farmer. “When we can not only understand a farmer’s field on a plant by plant basis, but we can also take action at that level, a completely different farming system becomes possible. Farming will be able to produce an abundance of food with minimal negative environmental impacts.”
Artificial Intelligence in action: Wilma
The Small Robot Company will unveil an early version of the interface for Wilma, the Artificial Intelligence ‘nervous system’ for its Farming as a Service (FaaS) offering. Built on Canonical’s cutting edge Ubuntu Internet of Things operating system, she will draw upon a comprehensive big data crop model for all her decision-making.
Taking data gathered in the field by the Tom monitoring robot, Wilma can see every blade of emerging wheat, bumblebee nest, and wormhole. She will then analyse this data to determine what remedial action is required. Wilma has been trained with the data gathered from phase one of field trials in 2018, and can already recognise Wheat from Non-Wheat plants.
“Ultimately, we will be able to employ permaculture techniques at scale - using gardening tactics such as companion planting, but for broadacre crops,” says Watson Jones. “Different crops could be planted alongside each other in the same field, and harvested at different times.”
Field trials: by farmers, for farmers
Small Robot Company will be working with its Farmer Advisory Group, consisting of 20 farmers across the UK, to develop its service for future farming on farm. Small Robot Company will work in conjunction with its trial farmers to develop the technology from early proof of concept prototype to a more robust working model.
Its prototype Tom monitoring robot is already developed and currently in field trials on 20 farms across the UK, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate. This prototype embodies all the core technology needed for Small Robot Company’s farmbot family. This includes autonomy, geolocation, obstacle avoidance, navigation and the ability to accurately position objects on a map within 2 centimetres.
The company is now be working to establish its ‘Hundred Club’ panel of an additional 100 farmers, both for regular consultation and to come on board to trial its robotics service when it is ready for large scale commercial trials in 2021.
“Robotic technology is coming; but we believe it must be by farmers, for farmers,” concludes Watson Jones. “As a farmer, it was important to me that if we are to develop an entirely new farming system, it must be done in conjunction with farmers, and not an imposition.”
About Small Robot Company
We are a group of farmers, engineers, scientists and service designers with a deep knowledge farming, robotics, AI and service design. Our technology builds on 15 years’ research by Professor Simon Blackmore, the world’s leading expert in precision farming at Harper Adams university. We are dedicated to building technology that will make farming profitable, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. We are building a farming service designed by farmers for farmers that uses robotics and AI to deliver this dream.
We have been developing our hardware, software and service offering throughout 2017. Our first prototype robot has been built and is successfully working. Field trials are currently in progress in 20 farms across the United Kingdom, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate. We are currently building the world’s most detailed living data model for our Neural Network to exploit. The initial focus for our service is arable crops.
Hear more about our company and see our prototype monitoring robot in action in this video here, made by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
Agri-tech robotic service
Small Robot Company offers its robots through a Farming as a Service (FaaS) model, which is both a hardware and a software service for farmers. Farmers pay a per hectare subscription fee for a robotic hardware service which digitises the farm, and delivers crop care at per-plant precision. The full service will comprise:
Tom, crop and soil monitoring robot
Dick, precision spraying and laser weeding robot
Harry, precision drilling and planting robot
Wilma, the operating system
The AI-driven neural network
Non-exec directors include Tom Hume, robotics expert at X (formerly called Google [x]).
The agri-tech industry accounts for £14.3 billion worth of turnover and more than half a million jobs in the UK alone. In the UK there are 3.8m hectares of cereal crops (700m ha globally). The UK agricultural machinery market is worth £2bn, and globally £150bn*.
On behalf of Small Robot Company
Pictures available here:
Caption: Aerial view of farm showing robot route/data path in bright green and close up of current data view:
Caption: Operator view including in-field automous robot path and view:
Caption: Aerial view of the field showing autonomous robot path precisely located on the satellite map view - the operator can drill down on this path to view the precise data:
Caption: close up of robot field view showing each plant in detail. The operator can drill from a satellite and/or farm map to see the plants in high resolution: