New generation of farm robots to have the ‘power and precision to replace tractors’

Engineers working on the next generation of farm robots say they will soon have the power and precision to be able to replace full-sized tractors.

Robotics experts at the Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) have been working with the Hampshire-based Small Robot Company to develop a new generation of robots and artificial intelligence.

The companies are working towards developing a new generation of agricultural technology which they say will bring enough power and precision in robots to farming to potentially replace tractors for many jobs.

These include small digitally-controlled robots are able to plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously with minimum waste.

Prototypes of the robots have been produced and are carrying out field trials on 20 farms across the UK, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate Farm and the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate.

The Small Robot Company, based in Hampshire, was established as an agri-tech start-up by digital entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson and fourth generation farmer Sam Watson Jones.

The pair were inspired by work at the National Centre for Precision Farming at Harper Adams agricultural college which suggested that much of the work done by tractors could be done with a series of highly accurate, smart, lightweight robots.

Jeremy Hadall, chief engineer for intelligent automation at the MTC, said the technology had the potential to make significant improvements in farm productivity and profitability.

“[We have been] developing a precision drilling and planting robot, which has the potential to improve yields, and therefore profits, while substantially reducing the use of chemicals.

The technology harnesses manufacturing advances used in traditional manufacturing industries and allows exceptional accuracy while creating a map showing the location of each seed.

“With growing populations and increasing challenges in farming, using ideas and technologies from other sectors will bring about real innovation and transform the way we feed ourselves in the future.”

The project has been supported by Innovate UK and the MTC, as well as £1.2 million raised through crowd-funding.