Small Robots showcase sustainable farming robots at 4IR Agritech event
Small Robot Company, a British Agritech start-up for sustainable farming, featured prominently in the Spring Reception for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) yesterday. Using robotics and artificial intelligence, the company has created an entirely new model for ecologically harmonious farming.
The Spring Reception celebrated new possibilities for improving the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture, and championed some of the Agri-Tech companies that will make it possible.
The guest of honour was Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and previous Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She delivered a keynote address on the Government’s support for agri-tech and opportunities for technology to transform the UK agricultural sector, help British farmers compete in global markets, and boost food security in the UK and abroad.
Featured companies included the World Bee Project, supported by Oracle, and start-ups the Small Robot Company, IceRobotics, Agrimetrics and agriVue.
“The 4IR will transform agriculture in Britain and around the world, revolutionising farming and food security and making it easier to protect the environment while producing high quality food at affordable prices,” said Alan Mak, Member of Parliament for Havant Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. “Technologies like AI, Big Data, AR/VR and Drones offer exciting new possibilities for improving the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture around the UK.”
Sustainable farming revolution
Small Robot Company harnesses the power and precision of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced and minimise chemical usage. It will make farms more profitable, and increase yield and efficiency, through using small robots instead of tractors. Its farmbots Tom Dick and Harry will plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.
This will cut chemicals by up to 95%. Its no-till robotics also prevent soil erosion and run off, reducing cultivation emissions by up to 90%.
Small Robot Company’s funding includes £1 million from Innovate UK, and half a million from UK farmers. Its Agritech technology is built on world-leading British research from Professor Simon Blackmore at Harper Adams University.
“We’re on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution, taking farming into the digital age: and with British ideas and British technology at the helm,” says Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company. “Our Tom, Dick and Harry robots will completely transform what’s possible on the farm. It will radically reduce chemical usage in arable farming, while improving soils, profits and yields. It’s the ultimate sustainable farming model.”
“Feeding an estimated extra 2.2 billion people living on planet earth by 2050 is going to be one of the biggest challenges we face in the future,” says Alan Howard, the IET’s Design and Manufacturing Lead, who attended the Spring Reception. “This brilliant idea from Small Robot Company, with its ingenious application of robotics and automation technologies, could provide a vital and secure source of food to help feed the world.”
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of the membership organisation, Agri-Tech East, who attended the event, comments: “Agritech dimension to 4IR is gaining momentum. There is now a wider understanding of the role of healthy soils in absorbing carbon, filtering water and supporting the growth of plants with greater resilience to disease, and consumer interest in sustainability. This is making it easier to create a business case for innovations that provide alternatives to the use of heavy equipment and agrochemicals. An interesting aspect of the Small Robot Company and agriVUE approach is the novel business model, both offer a service using advanced technology and this significantly reduces the risks associated with early adoption. This is a promising development.”
Farmer investors: ‘a new future for food production’
Small Robot Company (SRC) is working with a Farmer Advisory Group to develop its technology with farmers on farm. Field trials are currently in progress in 20 farms across the United Kingdom. Several of the SRC Farmer Advisory Group attended the Spring Reception, including representatives from the National Trust and Waitrose.
Comments from SRC’s Farmer Advisors on the potential impact of the 4IR Agritech: “We are now on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution. Food production and environmental care is at the heart of that,” said Andrew Ward, MBE Farmers Weekly Farming Champion & Arable Farmer of the Year, and member of the Small Robot Company (SRC) Farmer Advisory Group. “We can’t achieve this without robotics and automation becoming part of everyday farm life.”
“Farming is ripe for disruptive change. Over the next decade we must become more profitable, reverse environmental damage, communicate better with the public and grow more food, for more people than ever before,” comments Tom Clarke, Nature Friendly Farmer, NFU Sugar Board, OFC19 Emerging Leader and member of the SRC Farmer Advisory Group.
“Like many arable farmers we would like to reduce the use of pesticides, encourage wildlife on our farm and improve soil health – while farming as efficiently as possible to maintain the viability of the farming business,” said investor Kate Brown, farmer and member of the SRC Farmer Advisory Group, W R Brown (Farms) Ltd. “The Small Robot Company’s vision is to help farmers achieve all these aims which is why we are keen to work with them.”
Small Robot Company is now working to establish its ‘Hundred Club’ panel of an additional 100 farmers, both for regular consultation and to come on board to trial its robotics service when it is ready for large scale commercial trials in 2021.
The company recently raised £1.2 million on equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, with its hugely successful campaign overwhelmingly due to backing from the farming community for Agritech. This takes total funding secured to date to £2.5 million.
“Anything that can help change for the better the way we produce food on this planet is urgently needed,” comments Matt Jones, Principal Designer, Google AI, fellow of the Small Robot and investor in Small Robot Company. “I’m excited to invest and support the Small Robot Company team in their mission to change farming for the better with humanscale AI and robotics.”