Monitoring robot Tom sets out to help farmers control weeds

Photo: Small Robot Company
Photo: Small Robot Company

With monitoring robot Tom now being officially available, British agtech start-up Small Robot Company has its first commercial robot out in the fields.

In March 2018, the British agtech start-up Small Robot Company (SRC) won two awards enabling them to start developing robot Harry, a prototype of the world’s first digital drilling robot for combinable crops.

The engineers behind it, farmer Sam Watson Jones and entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson not only wanted to develop Harry, but also robots Tom and Dick. Both Tom and Dick are included in Future Farming’s robot catalogue with at least 35 other robot propositions farmers can buy, lease or hire in 2021.

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The newest generation of Tom, a multisensory monitoring robot, has recently become commercially available to UK farming.  - Photo: Small Robot Company

The newest generation of Tom, a multisensory monitoring robot, has recently become commercially available to UK farming. – Photo: Small Robot Company

Tom: A multi-sensory monitoring robot

The newest generation of Tom, a multi-sensory monitoring robot, has recently become commercially available to UK farming. Initial customers include the Lockerley Estate, where robots are a key part of its regenerative farming strategy, as well as the Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust.

The robot offers us a real chance to stop using artificial inputs

“Weeds, especially black grass, are crippling. It’s costing the industry a fortune”, says Craig Livingstone, Lockerley Estate farm manager. “Resistance to herbicides is the number one problem. The robot offers us a real chance to stop using artificial inputs, which goes towards our regenerative model of farming.”

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Tom scans, Dick zaps

SRC’s first service using Tom, will be per plant weeding. This is now in field trials, with Tom scanning arable crops to detect weeds, and robot weeding prototype Dick then zapping individual weeds using no chemicals. Dick is non-chemical weeding robot using electricity to kill weeds with Rootwave weed-zapping technology. Dick will be starting commercial service in autumn 2021.

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Tom (left) scans arable crops to detect weeds, and robot weeding prototype Dick then zapps individual weeds using no chemicals. - Photo: Small Robot Company

Tom (left) scans arable crops to detect weeds, and robot weeding prototype Dick then zapps individual weeds using no chemicals. – Photo: Small Robot Company

100 farms in 2023

Priced at £15 per hectare, Tom’s monitoring service will also map emergent wheat. Tom can cover up to 20 ha per day, fully autonomous. In future, Tom will also gather data from multiple sources, such as sensors and microphones for birdsong and pollinators, to assess soil health and biodiversity.

SRC’s ambition for Tom is to ramp up the service to 22,000 hectares on more than 100 farms in 2023 and to expand to cover 62,000 hectares across the UK, North America and South America in 2024.

Robot Tom is manufactured in Blythe, Northumberland (UK) by Tharsus, an advanced machine and robot designer and manufacturer. The British company also manufactures Ocado’s warehouse robots.

Dick is non-chemical weeding robot using electricity to kill weeds with Rootwave weed-zapping technology. - Photo: Small Robot Company

Dick is non-chemical weeding robot using electricity to kill weeds with Rootwave weed-zapping technology. – Photo: Small Robot Company

Koerhuis
René Koerhuis Precision Farming Specialist