Revolutionising Food Production with the Small Robot Company

Revolutionising Food Production with the Small Robot Company

a small robot company or a uk-based Agrotech start-up looking to replace big tractors with small robots they believe that where tractors are neither efficient nor environmentally friendly they're small robots will seed and care for each individual plants in a crop there are some big problems with the way that we farm and produce food at the moment we're producing things in quite an inaccurate way farming by averages approach for example when we're applying chemicals to a field big chunk of that fertilizer is never being taken up by the plant it's either evaporating into the atmosphere or it's going into the soil and being washed away and never really coming into contact with the roots of the plant currently 95% of energy is used in ploughing and plowing is only necessary because of heavy machinery crushing soil the current machinery that we have available if you like the tools that we use to farm and no longer enabling an increase in productivity so these machines are extremely heavy which has a negative impact on the soil so they're they're compacting the soil which restricts root growth there's an 800 billion dollar a year damage bill from farming so we a small robot company trying to maximize the way that we use technology to produce food we recognized that there was a big gap between what was technically possible and what was actually happening on farm and we started to think there's a better way of doing things that the technology could enable so we could establish a system that rather than considered the field as a unit considered the individual plant as a unit and then treated each plant as an individual item and applied that fertilizer much more accurately we spend a long time going around and interviewing farmers we've interviewed over a hundred farmers now they were very into the idea of technology but they're really scared about spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a new piece of kit but they didn't understand but so we wanted to explore a way to really lower that barrier to entry and make sure that farmers can get involved and take advantage of it without having those big hurdles of the cost and and the fear of things going wrong so we really needed to work with somebody who knew not how to develop a system that already exists and make it better but develop a completely new system which meant that when we saw the opportunity to apply for the IET horizontal innovation competition at the end of last year we thought this is a great opportunity to work with the best in March 2018 a small robot company or announce winners of a prestigious horizontal innovation award to develop Harry the company's new drilling and planting robot the int has teamed up with the MTC to deliver its horizontal Innovation Program horizontal innovation is the process of having a problem in your field and looking outside your sector to other areas for a solution the small robot company's application was the perfect example of horizontal innovation they took the concept of robotics from service robotics field and industrial manufacturing and applied it to agriculture taking all of the existing technologies and packaging them into a new system that would help tackle food productivity wastes and pollution with the existing agricultural industry we developed a system of three small robots Tom Dick and Harry Tom is the monitoring robot so tom is going into a field analyzing each individual plant understanding whether there are nutrient issues disease issues in that field and where exactly they are dick is a micro spraying and non chemical weeding robots so taking the data that's been gathered by Tom and going out into the field and applying chemicals in in minut doses just to the plants that need it and then the final robot on the services Harry and Harry is a digital planter so placing an individual seed in the ground and varying the seed spacing and seed depth of their seed based on based on the current understanding of best practice the idea behind Harry is that he doesn't need to plant into a plowed field he can just punch plant directly into the soil directly into the stubble of the previous year's crop and there are huge advantages of this for the environment if you leave the soil alone and you don't stump up and down on it it will automatically look after itself and the worms will come back and you'll get a much better growing medium for the plants the other thing about doing punch planting is every time you plant a seed you know exactly where it is which means that we can provide a per plant map of the entire crop a small robot company already have one robot work in the fields named Rachel Rachel is a prototype Tom robot so she's a really good testbed for us to try out some of the things that Tom needs to be able to do so that she knows where she is she has a very very accurate GNSS system on the back here which can give us a two centimeter round location fix also on the robot we have a mobile phone on the back I enables us to have a Wi-Fi hotspot if we've got 3G or 4G connectivity in the field and we can get a data connection and it also allows us to interact with the with the robot by connecting onto it over Wi-Fi from a mobile phone or from a laptop nearby so inside we have basically a battery and a Raspberry Pi and also some more bespoke Arduino based hardware which we use for interacting with the wheel encoders and some of the other electronics on board we also have a speed controller and some equipment for getting all the right voltages that we need for the various parts of the system we make extensive use of the ROS robot operating system framework which really means that we don't have to redo all the common things that people who make robots have to do so we can make use of those common components and then build our own smarts on on top of that software the IT guy was a fantastic opportunity to do this and what really nailed it for us is the first time we went to the manufacturing Technology Center in Coventry to see where our work was going to be done and to meet the team that we were working with because their view was to apply a completely ground-up sort of functional design process in an area where I don't think anybody is thinking about this at that level the manufacturing Technology Center is part of the government's high-value manufacturing catapult we're designed to help UK businesses accelerate their investment and R&D in manufacturing technologies as the winner of the horizontal innovation competition small robot company have been awarded 50,000 pounds of in-kind research based at the MTC we are working at the Bristol robotics laboratory over the summer to work on building robot prototype so hopefully we'll have an early proof-of-concept to see in September or October the team that will be working with led by redlund have done some fantastic stuff and for us it's been vital to what we're doing without the work that's going on at the moment with the MTC the robots that we're building wouldn't be able to have really the thing for us is this opportunity to essentially create this new farming revolution allowing rural economies to become more diversified as jobs move towards taking part in them actual agricultural business which is an intrinsic part of the local community

7 thoughts on “Revolutionising Food Production with the Small Robot Company”

  1. Amazing ideas and I really hope this becomes the future of farming but I'd worry about a small robots vulnerability to theft or vandalism. Thousands of pounds worth of kit on its own in a field that you can pick up and walk off with 😕

  2. Tillage is not required because of large equipment. We never till and seed directly into last years stripped crop placing the fertilizer directly beside the plants. You don't need robots, you just need to move out of the dark ages of agriculture and food production, perhaps try googling direct seeding, zero till etc.

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