Small Robot Company, a British agritech startup for sustainable farming, recently announced the world’s first non-chemical precision robotic weeding for cereal crops.
With electricity and AI, the ‘Dick’ robot will zap individual weeds using commercially-proven RootWave weed zapping technology. It’s worth mentioning that the first field trials are due to commence in 2020.
Dick – Non-chemical weeding robot!
This project is funded by the government’s Innovate UK grant programme, with more than £1 million funding committed to date. With collaboration with RootWave, Small Robot Company has completed the development of its ‘Dick’ non-chemical weeding robot prototype to in-lab proof of concept stage, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4.0.
Unlike the current farming system, which wastes around 95% of chemicals, this technology will be significantly more nature-friendly and better for biodiversity.
On the other hand, Small Robot Company also launched its next-generation robot. Its first robust commercial robot, Tom, is delivering SRC’s first commercial service for weed mapping.
The National Trust Wimpole Estate and Waitrose Leckford Estate farms are already trialing SRC’s first commercial weed mapping service, which uses SRC’s ‘Tom’ monitoring robot first to locate the weeds.
Sam Watson-Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company, said:
This is truly a world-first. For the first time, we can see each plant in the field – and every single weed. Instead of spraying the whole field, we can simply zap the individual weeds.
Scalable and sustainable alternative to herbicides!
With pressure increasing from regulators and herbicide-resistant weeds, RootWave has developed a scalable and sustainable alternative to herbicides. This provides the core technology for SRC’s new weed-zapping robots.
Andrew Diprose, CEO, RootWave comments:
Our technology uses electricity to zap weeds with zero chemicals. Increased regulation, herbicide resistance, and consumer concerns are all intensifying the urgency to find an environmental solution. Partnering with Small Robot Company means we can automate our weed zapping to operate at farm-scale.
Rootwave uses electricity to kill weeds. Electricity is applied to a weed where the natural resistance of the weed transforms the electrical energy into heat, which boils it inside out from the root upwards. This kills the weed, after which the plant naturally decomposes, returning its nutrients to the soil.
Furthermore, the technology is already commercially available as a professional hand-weeder designed for growers, gardeners, and groundskeepers to spot weed and treat invasive species. The other major partner is SFM Technologies, who are using RootWave technology to develop a tractor-pulled clearance weeder for fruit crops.
Collects 6TB of data!
Tom will cover 20 hectares per day autonomously, collecting about six terabytes of data. He can distinguish plant details at submillimetre resolution, with less than one millimeter per pixel resolution on the ground.
He is robust and weather-proof and can be used all year round. The next-generation Tom also incorporates increased speed, 5K camera capacity, and extended battery life.
Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company, said:
This is the major delivery milestone we set out to achieve with our £1.2 million Crowdcube investment round last year. The huge stride is that we will offer a commercial service. Tom can gather data at two hundred times the pace that the first generation Tom could do. Robust, weather-proof, and farm-scale. It’s been amazing to go from the drawing board to a situation where we have robots in the field collecting information that customers are paying for in the space of a few months.
Main image credit: Small Robot Company
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