Three robots were given the mission to clear a field in England and kill weeds using electricity.
Small Robot Company created the robots, named Tom, Dick, and Harry to remove unwanted weeds from land using minimal chemicals.
Since 2017, the startup has been developing its autonomous weed killers. In April, Tom was launched. It is now operating on three UK farms. Other robots are still in prototype and are currently being tested.
Small Robot claims that robot Tom can scan 20 ha (49 acres) per day and collect data. This data is then used to identify weeds by Dick, a “crop care” robot. It’s then up to robot Harry to plant seeds in the weedless soil.
The company claims that farmers can reduce their costs by up to 40% by using the complete system once it is in place.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that six million tonnes of pesticides were sold worldwide in 2018, worth $38 billion.
“Our system allows farmers can wean their depleted soils from a diet full of chemicals,” said Ben Scott-Robinson (co-founder and CEO of Small Robot).
Small Robot claims it has raised more than PS7 million ($9.9million). Scott-Robinson stated that the company plans to launch its entire system of robots in 2023. The service will cost around PS400 per hectare. The monitoring robot is first placed on a farm and the weeding or planting robots are delivered when data indicates they’re required.
Small Robot collaborated with RootWave, a UK-based startup to develop the zapping technology.
Scott-Robinson says that the current creates a current which passes through the roots and soil, then back up again, which destroys the weed. We can reach each plant that is threatening crop plants individually and get it out.
He says, “It’s slower than if you went out and sprayed the entire field.” “But we must remember that we only need to spray the areas where there are weeds.” Plants that are beneficial or neutral to crops can be left alone.
Small Robot refers to this as “per-plant farming”, a form of precise agriculture in which every plant is tracked and accounted for.
A case for business
Efficiency is still a problem for Kit Franklin, an agricultural engineer lecturer at Harper Adams University.
He stated, “I do not doubt that the electrical system works.” “But, you can cover hundreds upon hundreds of hectares per day with a large sprayer… But, if we want to get into this very precise weed-killing system we must realize that the output reduction is very difficult to overcome.”
Franklin is positive that farmers will embrace the technology if there is a business case.
He says, “There is a realization that farming in a sustainable way is also farming efficiently.” “Usingfewers inputs where and when needed is going to help us save money, and it’s going be good for the environment as well as the perception of farmers.”
Small Robot also wants to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.
Scott-Robinson states, “If you treat living environments like an industrial process then you are overlooking the complexity of them.” “We must change farming immediately, or there will be nothing to farm.”