Tom with SRC president and co-founder Sam Watson Jones
Manufactured in Northumberland by Tharsus, initial customers include Lockerley Estate, Waitrose’ Leckford Estate and the National Trust.
“SRC’s first service using Tom will be per-plant weeding,” according to the company. “This is now in field trials, with Tom scanning first arable crops to detect weeds, and robot weeding prototype Dick [below left] then zapping individual weeds with electrical strikes.”
Tom and Dick use and an artificial intelligence engine called ‘Wilma’ to identify individual weeds, with Dick using ‘RootWave’ non-chemical weeding equipment mounted on three Igus delta robotic arms.
“To prove the power of per-plant farming, we are focusing on answering the biggest problem that farmers face at the moment, which is weeding, said SRC CEO and co-founder Ben Scott-Robinson (left, with Dick), “We’ve now proved we can deliver per plant weeding: a world first. The focus for us now is being able to move forward to deliver this, repeatedly, and at scale.”
On-farm pilots of the chemical-free weeding service will begin in the autumn, and Tom will also be going into 5G trials in Dorset in the autumn as part of the £8m 5G RuralDorset project.
“Weeds, especially black grass, are crippling. It’s costing the industry a fortune,” said Lockerley Estate farm manager Craig Livingstone, who is on the National Food Strategy advisory panel. “Resistance to herbicides is the number one problem. The robot offers us a real chance to stop using artificial inputs, which goes towards our regenerative model of farming.”
The first crop Tom can work with is wheat, covering 20 hectares per day autonomously, detecting millions of data points per field: ~6Tbyte in an 8 hour shift. “As an example, Tom collected 12.7 million plants in a single six hectare field, of which 250,000 were identified as weeds,” said SBC.
Added intelligence is planned to: recognise different weed species, work in multiple crop types, detect disease in wheat, and map predicted yield and herbicide efficacy.
Plans for improved sensing include 5K cameras to give sub-mm resolution on the ground, and microphones to detect birdsong and pollinators as a way of assessing soil health and biodiversity.
Now delivered to commercial specification, Tom is “ready for ramp up of the service to more than 100 farms in 2023”, said SBC.
Tharsus, Blythe-based manufacturer of Tom, is also the maker Ocado’s warehouse robots.