Farming robot fleet to be built in UK

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Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, has announced that its first robot fleet will be manufactured in the UK.

An initial 10 Tom crop monitoring and mapping robots will be manufactured by Tharsus and ready for commercial service in October 2020.

Tharsus, which also manufactures Ocado’s warehouse robots, will first “finesse” the current prototype design for eventual mass production in Blyth, Northumberland.

Sam Watson Jones, co-founder, SRC, said: “This is a massive step in scaling up our robots for the mass market.

“Our focus for our robotics business is very much on design and innovation – and service.

“Manufacturing with Tharsus gives us the confidence to deliver robust, resilient and farm-ready products, time and again and in thousands of units.”

Following the robot’s manufacture, Tom will deliver SRC’s first commercial service for non-chemical weed mapping.

SRC’s Tom crop monitoring and weed mapping robot has been developed to reduce chemicals by up to 95%, prevent soil erosion and run off, and reduce cultivation emissions by up to 90%

Other benefits from the mapping service reportedly include yield predictions and measurement of herbicide efficacy.

Tom will cover 20ha (50 acres) per day autonomously, collecting about 6TB of data.

It can reportedly distinguish plant details at sub-millimetre resolution, with less than 1mm per-pixel resolution on the ground.

Weather-proof and able to be used year-round, Tom also incorporates increased speed, 5K camera capacity and extended battery life.

SRC is planning to service around 2,000ha (4,900 acres) with the 10 new Tom robots by January 2021, before making the model widely available from autumn 2021.

Customers currently signed up to use Tom include Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust.

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

In addition to Tom, SRC’s other farmbot models, Dick and Harry, are designed to plant, monitor and treat arable crops autonomously with minimal waste.

SRC aims to deliver Farming-as-a-Service (FaaS) in three stages. The next stage is to deliver non-chemical robotic weed detection and control for 8,000ha (19,768 acres) wheat crops in 2021.

According to SRC, this will be scaled up to service 20,000ha (49,421 acres) in the UK by 2023, comprising 70 UK farms that have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the service, before then expanding to cover 80,000ha (197,684 acres) across the UK, USA and Canada.

Want to learn more about how robots can transform agriculture and farming? Robotics and Automation – the UK’s largest dedicated robotics and automation exhibition – takes place on the 3rd and 4th November 2020 at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Register your interest now at www.roboticsandautomation.co.uk

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