Robot series Tom, Dick and Harry to automate farmingMarie Donlon | December 13, 2019
A U.K. startup has developed a series of robots that use artificial intelligence (AI) and electricity to destroy weeds — a process that entirely forgoes the use of chemicals in agriculture.
Tom, the first of three robots from the Small Robot Company, is a mapping robot that is already undergoing trials in the U.K. Tom uses AI to map roughly 50 acres of farmland a day, locating individual plants and distinguishing plants from weeds.
That data is then communicated to a second robot called Dick. Using what is called Rootwave technology from a U.K. startup of the same name, Dick can apply electricity to the weeds located by Tom, boiling them from the inside. Dick is expected to undergo a trial in 2020.
Harry, the third and final robot from the Small Robot Company, is designed to plant and sow seeds and plot specific plant locations using AI. Trials of Harry are set to begin in 2022.
The Small Robot Company joins a growing number of startups attempting to automate agricultural tasks, particularly amid a reported worldwide shortage of human workers performing such tasks, and to reduce the amount of pesticides used in the farming industry.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed robotic weeders in lieu of human weeders while engineers from automobile manufacturer Nissan have developed a robotic duck to reduce pesticide use and weed growth in rice fields. Meanwhile, a robotics company in Belgium has created a robot to assist farmers with strawberry picking amid a farm worker shortage while a team at the University of Plymouth has created a robot that can pick roughly 25,000 raspberries a day.