Three-year trial, starting February

UK: Waitrose to use small robots to farm its food

Next year, autonomous robots will start cultivating wheat fields in a three year trial to help produce bread and flour for Waitrose. British agritech start-up Small Robot Company, with their robots Tom, Dick and Harry, will provide the new technology to work on the 4,000-acre Leckford Estate, Hampshire. The robots are expected to start work in February.

The company seeks to harness the power and precision of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced and minimise chemical usage. The service comprises: Tom, crop and soil monitoring robot; Dick, precision spraying and laser weeding robot and Harry, precision drilling and planting robot.

Robots are smaller, lighter and more precise than the current farming systems using tractors. Using small robots instead of tractors will deliver greater yield from less inputs, the company says.

Andrew Hoad, the head farmer on the Leckford Estate, stated: “The months ahead are going to be challenging for everyone. Great innovation sometimes comes out of complex challenges.”

According to an article on¸ robots can also work in smaller and more unusually-shaped fields, making the most of headlands, while protecting hedgerows, biodiversity and the British landscape. Longer term, robots can radically improve farming methods and food potential.

Small Robot Company’s AI-driven technology allows a level of autonomy, accuracy and detail that now makes it possible for smaller farms to be profitable, and for 10x better decision making. Eventually, each process - from knowing when to plant, to all aspects of crop care, to knowing when to harvest - will be automated.

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