Shropshire, United Kingdom, 18 June 2018
Small Robot Company, a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, today announced that it is a finalist for the prestigious AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards. The 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 has been picked for the BT Connected Society category on account of the positive social impact and environmental benefits of its technology. Now in its 8th year, the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards recognise organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place.
Small Robot Company will make farms more profitable, and increase yield and efficiency, through using small robots instead of tractors. Its arable farming robots Tom, Dick and Harry will enable farmers to be kinder to soil, kinder to the environment, more efficient, more precise and more productive. It will also reduce chemical usage and cultivation energy in arable farming by up to 95%.
“We are re-imagining farming in the robotic age. We want to revolutionise the way that food is produced, reducing its terrible cost on the environment,” says co-founder and entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson. “Current arable farming methods, in particular ploughing and blanket spraying, are extremely harmful to the environment. Unfortunately, if you treat the whole field the same, overuse of chemicals is inevitable. So we are transforming farming with robots and artificial intelligence.”
“Globally we know that farming is a huge energy user, a huge water user and, unfortunately, the source of a lot of pollution. It’s clear that consumers do not find this acceptable, and farmers have unfortunately been widely demonised as a result. We need a farming system which is much kinder to the wider environment,” says co-founder and fourth generation farmer Sam Watson Jones. “Most farmers would like to be better stewards of the environment, and many work hard to reduce chemical outputs and environmental impact as far as possible. But until now the hard limitations of today’s technology have left mainstream farmers with little choice but to pollute. The tractor is a blunt tool, but now, there is a real alternative, giving farming a closer and more harmonious relationship with both nature and consumers.”
“The Nature Friendly Farming Network supports the farmer-run Small Robot Company in its work to bring technology and robotics to agriculture. New innovations help us reduce our environmental impact whilst producing a sustainable supply of food from our countryside,” says Martin Lines, UK Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
Digitising the field with Artificial Intelligence
Small Robot Company’s robots work alongside AI ‘nervous system’ Wilma to ‘digitise the field’ and provide a granular digital view of the farm. The robots will only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the perfect levels nutrients and support, with no waste. This will minimise chemical usage in farming by up to 95%.
Its precision farming technology allows a level of autonomy, accuracy and detail that now makes it possible to provide precise care on a per plant basis, and for 10x better decision making. It will take in the sum of all farming knowledge, including agronomy, soil science and market conditions, coupled with aggregated big data from all farms across the country, and apply it to the information gathered about the crop.
Eventually, each process - from knowing when to plant, to all aspects of crop care, to knowing when to harvest - will be automated.
“Our vision is to automate and digitise arable crop farming,” says co-founder Sam Watson Jones, a fourth generation farmer. “Farming is arguably the last analogue industry. The potential for efficiency here is phenomenal, and the environmental benefits this then bestows are immense. Simply put, it's the ability to apply permaculture techniques at scale. It’s the ultimate sustainable farming model. Farming can now create a world where there is an abundance of food which has been produced with minimal negative environmental impacts.”
“Feeding an estimated extra 2.2 billion people living on planet earth by 2050 is going to be one of the biggest challenges we face in the future,” says Alan Howard, the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Design and Manufacturing Lead. “This brilliant idea from Small Robot Company, with its ingenious application of robotics and automation technologies, could provide a vital and secure source of food to help feed the world”.
There is also a public vote to pick the People’s Award 2018. To vote for Small Robot Company, people can either share one of the posts from its social media channels using the #T4GSmallRobot, or post something on their own page showing their support and include the hashtag #T4GSmallRobot.
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 farms in Shropshire and Hampshire. 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. Our first customers are signed up to use our services from October 2018.
Non-exec directors include Tom Hume, robotics expert at X (formerly called Google [x]).
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 robots take care of all the feeding, seeding, and weeding autonomously. They will only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the perfect levels nutrients and support, with no waste. 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
Small Robot Company recently won a prestigious Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) to develop its Harry digital planting robot prototype technology.
The agri-tech industry accounts for £14.3 billion worth of turnover and more than half a million jobs in the UK alone.