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Robotics is a fantastic industry – it seems like every day new and more sophisticated machines are built, capable of performing tasks so specific and difficult humans themselves can’t even do them. From robots so small they can be introduced into the human bloodstream to run diagnostics there to ones that can be used to perform engravings so small the human eye can’t even make them out – there is a robot for just about everything.

The wonders of these robots make it easy to forget that there are other robots as well – ones that help perform daily manual tasks, jobs that don’t require inhumane precision but other skills. One such job is farming. Largely outdoors-based and generally not requiring a surgeon’s skills, it may seem odd to think of using robots to help with this kind of work. Tom, Dick, and Harry would disagree – these three are farm helpers created by the Small Robot Company.

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Tom checks on the crops

This guy is the first in a trio of clever robots. He works a little like a Roomba – automatically returns to a charging station (called a kennel) when he runs out of juice and also automatically transmits the data he collects while he’s out and about. That’s what he’s used for: monitoring crops on a plant by plant basis. Through careful analysis, he can create a detailed profile for each individual plant and with the help of AI Wilma, even make decisions on what fertilizer or chemicals are needed to improve your crops.

Dick does the dirty work

Where Tom is permanently based on the farm, Dick is only brought when needed – he’s responsible for feeding and weeding fields. Through precision nozzles, he can spray things like fertilizer and pesticides in order to keep plants healthy individually, preventing spray of chemicals where it’s not necessary.

He can also physically weed – either by pulling and crushing the weeds or burning them in situations where chemicals aren’t appropriate to use. Much bigger than Tom, Dick can effectively and efficiently perform tasks that would take humans significantly longer and without the risk of, for example, back injuries from being bent over for long periods of time.

Harry does the planting

Harry lives with Dick at the Small Robot Company and is also dispatched when ordered to by AI Wilma. He’s a precision planter – in other words, he drills into the ground and places individual seeds in the ground, recording where he placed them. This is done with minimal disruption to the ground around the crop, leading to healthier crops.

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With an exact plan of where each seed is planned, Wilma can later have Tom and Dick cover the appropriate areas to make sure no crop is missed. Harry is small and light enough that, if a particular seed doesn’t germinate, he can easily travel there and replace it – something that is incredibly difficult for a person.

Wilma is the brain

Wilma is the proverbial brains behind the operation. A highly specialized AI, she analyses things like plant growth, soil conditions, and crop data. The combination of these four is called ‘FaaS’ – Farming as a Service. That’s exactly what it is – Wilma can even help determine whether it’s better to plant the whole field or leave certain patches fallow for a better yield. She can find more efficient uses of fungi- and pesticides – for example, does the whole field need spraying or just the infected plants?

YouTube: Three Small Robots and their dream to feed the world

YouTube: Revolutionising Food Production with the Small Robot Company

Photo credit: All used images have are owned by and have been provided to us by the Small Robot Company.
Editorial notice: Some of the images are computer-generated concepts and not photos.

Melanie Hawthorne

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