British agritech startup Small Robot Company (SRC) has unveiled an AI suite of robots that can identify and kill individual weeds with electricity.
Comprising of Dick – the world’s first non-chemical robotic weeding system for cereal crops, Tom – a crop monitoring robot, and Wilma – a farming AI system, this new suite points to a post-chemical future that’s bound to be revolutionary as it sounds.
“This is a major technological milestone which will enable automated, precision, per-plant weeding both at scale and autonomously, for the first time providing a post-chemical future for arable farmers,” says Small Robot Company CEO and Co-founder Ben Scott-Robinson.
“We’ve now proved we can deliver per plant weeding: a world first. The focus for us now is being able to move forward to deliver this, repeatedly, and at scale. This will be game-changing.”
Dick has been designed to destroy weeds at an individual plant level. Rather than using chemicals to deal with problem plants, Dick simply dispatches them with a blast of high voltage electricity.
Tom – manufactured by Northumberland firm Tharsus – monitors crops by trundling around the field imaging individual plants in high resolution detail. It can be controlled either manually or autonomously.
The system is capable of mapping around 20 Hectares, and its 6 terabytes of info – uploaded to the cloud and analysed by Wilma – spots undesirable weeds, supplying intelligence and data to the farmer.
Future versions of the system will be able to assess soil health and biodiversity by gathering data on birdsong and pollinators.
This data can then be sent to Dick, which is dispatched to destroy the offending weeds using a series of robotically controlled zappers on its underbelly.
The zappers are built by another British agritech startup, RootWave. They can deliver 10 – 12,000 volt blasts of electricity to the weed.
Three delta robot arms supplied by igus UK help the zappers move into position, and stepper motors linked to controllers help position the delta robot directly over the weeds.
RootWave is also exploring the use of lasers. It plans on building a hybrid system that could either use lasers or electricity to zap out weeds.
Image and content: Small Robot company/Jon Excell-The Engineer