Farmers fuel £1.2m Crowdcube for small robot company
Sustainable farming robotics company has raised £2.5m in total, including funding from Innovate UK, Indiegogo and the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
The company’s hugely successful campaign received support from far and wide. Its biggest support came from the farming, technology and ‘eco’ communities. Investors included Matt Jones, principal designer at Google AI; Mark Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides; and Andrew Ward, MBE, Farmers Weekly Farming Champion and Arable Farmer of the Year.
Small Robot Company harnesses the power and precision of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced and minimise chemical usage. It will make farms more profitable, increasing yield and efficiency through the use of small robots instead of tractors. The farmbots will plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.
This now takes the total funding raised by the Small Robot Company to £2.5 million in total. This includes two awards from Innovate UK, £300,000 seed funding from farmers (including £90,000 in presales), £50,000 raised from Indiegogo crowdfunding, and a £50,000 Horizonatal Innovation Award from the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
“We are now on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution. Food production and environmental care are at the heart of that,’ said investor Andrew Ward, MBE Farmers Weekly Farming Champion & Arable Farmer of the Year, and member of the Small Robot Company Farmer Advisory Group. “We can’t achieve this without robotics and automation becoming part of everyday farm life. Cost of production is rising at an alarming rate. Applying products to 100% of a field needs to change. My zero tolerance approach to blackgrass is working. The next stage is to use robotics to only apply herbicides to those plants which need them.”
Small Robot Company’s prototype – Tom the monitoring robot – is already developed and in field trials on 20 farms across the UK, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate farm and the National Trust Wimpole Estate. This prototype embodies all the core technology needed for Small Robot Company’s farmbot family. This includes autonomy, geolocation, obstacle avoidance, navigation and the ability to accurately position objects on a map within 2 centimetres.
An early version of Wilma (its AI ‘nervous system’ and brains of the operation) was also unveiled at the WIREDLive Innovationfestival in November. Wilma is the core of an intelligent, autonomous crop management system for arable farming. Following extensive field trials, and artificial intelligence training with partner Cosmonio over the last six months, Wilma can already distinguish Wheat plants from ‘Not-Wheat’, meaning any images of items that are not wheat plants.
Small Robot Company will work in conjunction with its trial farmers to develop the technology from early proof of concept prototype to a more robust working model.
The company is now working to establish its ‘Hundred Club’ panel of an additional 100 farmers, both for regular consultation and to come on board to trial it’s robotics service when it is ready for large scale commercial trials in 2021.
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