Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, announced in a live webinar to shareholders this morning (Friday 7th February) that the industrial design and manufacture of its first robot fleet will take place in Britain.
The initial fleet of 10 robots will be manufactured by Tharsus, the UK advanced machine and robots designer and manufacturer. In this morning's webinar, which was hosted by co-founder Ben Scott-Robinson, shareholders were told that the first of the fleet will be ready for commercial service in October 2020.
Tharsus will finesse the ‘Tom’ monitoring robot prototype design for eventual mass production in Blyth, Northumberland, working together with SRC on a what the company described as a “rigorous industrial design process”. Tharsus is experienced in advanced robot manufacture, having also made Ocado’s warehouse robots for global sale.
‘Tom’ is delivering SRC’s first commercial service for weed mapping. The machines are currently undergoing trials on a number of UK farms, it was said this morning - having to cope with the current wet and difficult condtitions.
SRC said they are planning to service around 2000 hectares with the new ‘Tom’ robots by January 2021. Customers signed up to use the new robots include Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust, who is looking to expand its use of robots across its farms. Early field trials are already underway in 20 farms across the UK, including the National Trust Wimpole Estate and Waitrose & Partners Leckford Estate.
Tom’s per plant view of the field is the initial foundation for SRC’s commercial non-chemical weeding service, which uses the monitoring robot to first locate the weeds. The weed zapping service is anticipated to be available from autumn 2021. Other benefits from the mapping service include yield predictions and measurement of herbicide efficacy.
Small Robot Company said this morning their mission is to maximise food production while reducing its cost on the environment. Using robotics and artificial intelligence, they said they have created an entirely new model for “ecologically harmonious, efficient and profitable farming”. Its farmbots Tom, Dick and Harry will plant, monitor and treat arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.
Small Robot Company's tech team Robin, Nemo and Susant with the next generation weed mapping robot Tom
John Toal, Director of Business Development, Tharsus, said, “Small Robot Company is an archetype of a radical disruptor. They are changing the face of an industry that is experiencing significant economic and environmental challenges – by proposing to do things differently. Significantly so. Our engagement melds together their vision, ambition and inventiveness with our own experience of creating commercially successful products.”
Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s Head of Farming and Soils, commented, “Technology needs to play a big part in solving many of the issues we currently face in farming - particularly improving soil health and carbon sequestration, reducing our reliance on fossil fuel power and fertilisers and avoiding the adverse impacts of synthetic chemicals on the environment. We have started small robot trials at Wimpole and intend to extend trials to other estates in the near future.”
Sam Watson Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company said, “The global opportunity is huge. This is a fourth agricultural revolution, and British technology is leading the charge. We’re currently first to market, so it’s absolutely crucial that we get our commercial delivery right.
“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. They have the expertise we needed to get our commercialisation right.”