AI for pesticide-free smart farming weed removal

AI for pesticide-free smart farming weed removal

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A smart farming startup has launched the third element in its robot system for pesdticide-free agriculture, an AI-based system called WIlma

Wilma, developed by the Small Robot Company, provides ‘per plant intelligence’, using precise information gleaned by Tom, a scouting robot, on the health of the plant. If Wilma identifies the plant as a weed then Dick – the world’s first non-chemical robotic weeder – is dispatched to zap it.  

The smart farming agri-robots are being trialled on three farms.  “The first commercial version of Wilma creates a per-plant crop map and is then AI-enabled to recognise disease and the nutrient status of the plant, enabling precision weeding by the farmbots and, in the future, application of water, nutrients or fungicide as appropriate – cutting chemical use and emissions,” said Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Small Robot Company.

“Wilma can direct Dick on the most effective course across the field. The robot then kills the weeds, such as blackgrass, using the Rootwave technology, which is electric so there is no problem with resistance,” he said.  

“In a post-glyphosate world the ability to quickly kill pernicious weeds as they appear means that farmers don’t need to wait to drill and can take the opportunity to get crops started in the better weather in early autumn. Our lightweight farmbot Harry will also be equipped to precision drill without damaging the soil.” The weed zapping and slug control are two initial applications for the farmbots and these applications are attracting attention in Latin America.  Slugs are a growing problem as new varieties of slug have invaded and the traditional slug pellets which contain metaldehyde or Iron (Ferric) phosphate are being withdrawn.  

Tom can also detect slugs using hyperspectral imagery and artificial intelligence. It is intended that detection and mapping of slug infestations will be happening in-field in summer 2021, with Dick adding precision spraying as part of his ‘crop care service’ later in the year.  

Small Robot Company raised £1.1m in a recent crowdfunding campaign, with 30 customers prepaying for Farming-as-a-service technology where the robots are sent out as required. Harry, a 1.8 metre-square spider shaped robot for drilling seeds autonomously, was launded in 2018

One early adopter of smart farming is Craig Livingstone, who is part of the Small Robot Company advisory group and was Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year 2018. “Robotics offer us a real chance to answer the many questions of modern agriculture in responding to climate change, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and of course soil and food security,” he said.  

“The lightweight, low impact monitoring robot Tom is now on my farm scanning emerging wheat. For the first time I have a per plant view of my fields. With the Wilma artificial intelligence, we can determine weed density and locations, and are also looking to assess potential yield. In time, by reducing the trafficking on our soil and minimising the use of pesticides, I’m convinced this can only add to more productive, functioning soils capable of producing quality nutritious food.”

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