Finalist category: BT Connected Society Award
Connected Society Award, Winner, 2018
Re-imagining farming in the robotic age
Launched in November 2017, the Small Robot Company is re-imagining farming in the robotic age. By providing a service of small, precise and efficient robots, they plan to plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.
The company, run by farmers, for farmers, believe they are providing a solution to some of the biggest challenges facing the farming industry today. The current system of farming is wasteful on an industrial scale – costing the world economy around £80bn a year. Costs for farmers have doubled in the last 25 years, but prices and yields stay the same. More needs to be produced, more efficiently, and less wastefully to feed the growing population around the world.
To tackle this, the Small Robot Company interviewed hundreds of farmers to gauge the problem and design a service that revolutionises the way that technology is used to create food. The small, lightweight robots are much more agile than the current tractor-based systems and provide precise plant treatment such as using lasers to kill weeds to individually feeding each plant. The ‘farmbots’, named Tom, Dick and Harry, will know exactly where each plant is, and, working with artificial intelligence system, Wilma, they will know what to plant where and when.
Farmers will be able to operate on a far more granular level. Instead of treating the whole field the same they can use soil monitoring to grow crops only where they will flourish – thus improving yield and profit. Crops will be healthier too from being grown on better soil, which hasn’t been compacted or damaged through intensive treatment. Overall, the environment will improve as improved accuracy means chemicals are used less and reduced ploughing prevents valuable nutrients in the soil being washed or blown away.
The small team of robotics experts, service designers, techies and farmers, has secured funding and are signing up their first 30 farmers as customers. They have built a prototype Tom, and by the end of the year aim to have delivered a commercial trial of the first Harry, the digital planting robot, and a version of Wilma.
Together, they believe they are answering one of the biggest challenges facing the world at the moment – how can we provide 70% more food by 2050 without destroying our planet?