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‘World-first’ farming robot takes centre stage at Agri-Tech Week

Agri-Tech East REAP Conference 2018. Pictured: The unveiling of Small Robot Company's Harry, the world’s first digital drilling prototype, by Belinda Clarke (Director of Agri-Tech East) and Sam Watson Jones (co-founder of Small Robot Company). Picture: Agri-Tech East.

Agri-Tech East REAP Conference 2018. Pictured: The unveiling of Small Robot Company's Harry, the world’s first digital drilling prototype, by Belinda Clarke (Director of Agri-Tech East) and Sam Watson Jones (co-founder of Small Robot Company). Picture: Agri-Tech East.

Agri-Tech East

The world’s first robotic seed drill prototype for cereal crops was unveiled at the 2018 Agri-Tech Week conference – just 12 months after its makers pitched their concept at last year’s event.

“Harry” is a spider-shaped smart robot, which works as a driverless drill which accurately plants seeds at a uniform depth, with minimal soil disturbance. It records exactly where it has placed individual seeds, and feeds this data back to an artificial intelligence platform, called Wilma.

The machine is one of a team of three precision-engineered smart robots being developed by the Small Robot Company.

“Tom”, already being trialled on farms, monitors every single plant in a field and identifies the difference between crops and weeds like black-grass or brome, and records thousands of images to be analysed and mapped by Wilma.

And “Dick”, still in development, will carry out remedial work based on this plant-level data, accurately targeting weeds for micro-spraying and mechanical weeding. Directed by Wilma, the farmbots will only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the perfect levels of nutrients. The company claims this could cut chemicals and emissions by up to 95%.

READ MORE: Agri-Tech Week 2018: Are modern farmers becoming overwhelmed by data?

Fourth generation farmer Sam Watson Jones, co-founder of the Small Robot Company, said he expects Harry to be ready for commercial work in the next 18 months to three years – demonstrating the speed at which new technologies are advancing.

“This stuff has moved way beyond some kind of fevered fantasy of the future of farming,” he said. “For years it was talked about as a vision for 2050. But it really won’t take that long. The pace of change is very rapid.

“12 months ago, I was in the conference hall pitching this with a slide deck. A year later we are unveiling a robot here and we have another doing some actual work nearby at the Wimpole Estate. We have got 20 farms signed up, including some big players around the eastern counties.

“We are launching a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube, which is an oportunity to own shares in the brand. We are preparing to invest seven or eight times the money in 2019 that we did in 2018, so this technology will develop really quickly.”

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