TNB Night Owl – Killer Robots, Or, The Future Of Farming

Agriculture robot. Image captured by the News Blender.

All of humanity relies on agriculture. It should go without saying that sans farming, we’d all be limited to hunting, fishing, and whatever wild edibles we could gather. Obviously that wouldn’t end well, given the enormous numbers of people that need to be fed. The benefits agriculture brings to humanity are massive. However, agriculture also brings problems to the collective table. One of those problems is the excessive use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides by farmers the world over. These chemicals poison the soil, killing beneficial bacteria, fungi, animals, birds, fish, plants, and insects in addition to whatever unwanted organisms that were the intended targets. Rain results in chemical runoff that finds its way into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, causing a largely ignored global environmental catastrophe.

The good news is there’s a company in the UK with a vision to do something about it using robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). The founders of the business are more than scientists, engineers, and technologists, though: they’re farmers, so they understand and care about the industry. Agriculture is personally important to them, and their products are designed not only to benefit the planet, but also to benefit farmers by reducing operational costs. Chemicals are a huge expense for farmers, but the Small Robot Company (SRC) is working to make them obsolete.

Four products comprise the SRC strategy, and they have friendly names. Tom, Dick, and Harry are robots that work the fields. Wilma is an artificial intelligence running the show from the farm’s office. All robots communicate with Wilma via IoT technologies, and each robot has a different function. Tom surveys the fields, taking high resolution pics up close to identify undesirable weeds as well as the desired crop, on a per plant basis. Dick specializes in killing undesirable weeds using electricity. (Early prototypes could also treat weeds by microspraying herbicides on them – it’s unclear whether this approach is still an option). Harry plants seeds using a no-till drill approach. This means the soil is not plowed or tilled before planting, unlike traditional farming. Plowing and tilling kill earthworms and beneficial bacteria, resulting in poor, less productive soil.

Wilma ties the whole thing together, keeping a database mapping the exact location of each and every single plant, identifying crops and weeds. That data is provided to Wilma by Tom. Wilma tells Dick which plants are weeds to be killed. The company intends its relatively lightweight products to eventually replace tractors, harvestors, and other heavy equipment, as the weight of these machines compact the soil. Compacted soil is undesirable, as it impedes root growth. The traditional remedy to compacted soil is plowing and tilling which, again, is a negative.

“Small Robot Company in 2 minutes” (2:00):

“Small Robot Company: Per Plant Farming” (5:00):

Question Of The Night: Your favorite farm-raised food is?

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About Richard Doud 263 Articles
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