Agri-tech planting robot wins funding

A computer-generated image of Harry, the seed planting robot

Agri-tech planting robot wins funding

British agritech start-up Small Robot Company has won a prestigious engineering award to develop its precision drilling and planting robot.

The firm won a Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), sponsored by Innovate UK.

By combining robots and artificial intelligence (AI), Small Robot Company aims to improve the way that food is produced.

The £50,000 funded research award will allow the firm to develop ‘Harry’, the company's precision drilling and planting robot, from concept through to in-field prototype.

Addressing key challenges around the use of robotics in agriculture, the development of Harry’s punch planting mechanism will be supported by the Manufacturing Technology Centre, one of seven centres which make up the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVM Catapult), which is sponsored by Innovate UK.

The technology is built on 15 years of robotics research by Professor Simon Blackmore, the world’s leading expert on precision farming at Harper Adams University.

Harry has the potential to help farms to increase yields and profits whilst substantially reducing the use of chemicals.

The award allows Small Robot Company to harness the power of manufacturing technologies used in pharmaceuticals and construction to deliver Harry’s precision drilling and planting mechanism

Harry will accurately place seeds individually in the ground at a uniform depth to within 2cm accuracy, creating a plant level map showing the location of each seed.

A commercial trial is anticipated for October 2018.

Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder and experienced entrepreneur, said: “It is a great honour to receive such a highly-regarded industry award. Such prestigious recognition of the work we’re doing to transform farming is game-changing.”

“The MTC’s expertise and development help will be invaluable to get our robots to market.

“We can now get them working on real farms at scale this growing season. This puts us at the vanguard for future farming.”

Jeremy Hadall, the MTC’s chief engineer for intelligent automation, added: “The MTC is delighted to be working with Small Robot Company to assist in the development of Harry into a commercial reality.”

“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.

“Small Robot Company exemplify the principles of Horizontal Innovation™ through their use of technologies from other sectors to revolutionise farming not just in the UK, but potentially globally.”

“Feeding an estimated extra 2.2 billion people living on planet earth by 2050 is going to be one of the biggest challenges we face in the future,” says Alan Howard, the IET’s Design and Manufacturing Lead.

“This brilliant idea from Small Robot Company, with its ingenious application of robotics and automation technologies, could provide a vital and secure source of food to help feed the world”.