Three robots in England are searching for weeds and killing them with electricity so seeds may be planted.
The Small Robot Company made Tom, Dick, and Harry, three robots that eat weeds. They were made to help farmers and ranchers use fewer pesticides and less manual labor.
Since 2017, the company has been developing autonomous weed killers, and in April of this year, it released Tom, its first commercial robot, which is currently operating on three UK farms. The remaining robots are currently prototypes undergoing testing.
Small Robot Declares, RobotTom has the ability to scan 20 hectares (49 acres) per day, acquiring information that Dick, a “crop-care” robot, uses to get rid of weeds. Then, robot Harry plants seeds in the weed-free soil.
The company says that once the whole system is up and running, farmers will be able to cut their costs by 40% and their use of pesticides by up to 95%.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that in 2018, the global trade in pesticides was worth $38 billion and 6 million metric tons.
Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Small Robot, said, “Our approach helps farmers wean their depleted and damaged soils off a chemical diet.”
Small Robot has reportedly raised more than £7 million ($9.9 million). Scott-Robinson added that the company plans to introduce its whole robot system by 2023, offering it as a service for about £400 ($568) per hectare. A robot monitoring system has never been placed on a farm before. Weeding and planting robots won’t be used until there’s enough evidence.
“It generates a current that travels down the roots of the plant, through the earth, and then back up,” explains Scott-Robinson. This fully eradicates the weed. “We can remove any solitary plant that poses a hazard to the agricultural plants.”
He explains that “It’s not as quick as if you went out and sprayed the whole field.” However, keep in mind that we only need to enter the portions of the field where the weeds exist. Avoiding the eradication of plants that have no negative effects on crops or actually benefit such crops.
Small Robot calls precision farming that tracks and accounts for each plant “per plant farming.”
The business plan
For Kit Franklin, a professor of agricultural engineering at Harper Adams University, efficiency is still a challenge.
CNN Business quotes him as saying, “There is no question in my view that the electrical system works.” However, you may cover hundreds of hectares each day with a huge sprayer… If we wish to use this very accurate weed-killing method, we must recognize that there will be a significant drop in yield.
Franklin believes farmers would use the technology if it’s profitable.
“There is an understanding that farming in an ecologically sustainable manner is also an effective method of farming,” he states. “Using fewer inputs where and when we need them would save us money, benefit the environment, and improve the image of farmers.”
Small Robot wishes to enhance soil quality and biodiversity, in addition to minimizing the use of pesticides.
Scott-Robinson states, “If you approach a living ecosystem as an industrial process, you are disregarding its complexity.” “We must alter farming immediately, or there will be nothing left to cultivate.”