Small Robot Company, a British agritech startup that is building robots to help support sustainable farming, has raised £1.2 million through crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, bringing its total funding to £2.5 million.
As might be expected, the most support in the round came from the farming community, with the company reaching its initial target of £500,000 in a matter of minutes. High profile supporters from the tech and farming communities included Matt Jones, Principle Designer at Google AI, and Andrew Ward MBE, Farmers Weekly Farming Champion.
Small Robot Company aims to build robots that can replace and do the same jobs as large, gas-guzzling, environmentally unsustainable tractors. The company says the robots will care for each individual crop, spraying it and feeding it only when needed, automating the entire process and minimizing waste as much as possible. It also means that, according to the company's website, farm revenues could increase by up to 40% while costs could decrease by 60%.
The startup was founded in July 2017 by Ben Scott-Robinson, a serial entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "digital innovator," and Sam Watson Jones, a fourth-generation farmer.
As with many other platforms and industries being revolutionized by tech, this is an "as-a-service" company -- specifically, farming-as-a-service, with farmers paying per-hectare for a hardware and software platform to partially digitize the farm.
The company has its prototype robots on field trials in 20 UK farms, including Waitrose's Leckford Estate farm and the National Trust's Wimpole Estate. Wilma, the service's operating system, uses autonomy and geolocation technology and is able to position itself within 2cm accuracy, using GPS signals embedded into the onboard chips. Three other robots carry out specific farming tasks: Tom, a crop and soil monitoring robot; Dick, a precision spraying and laser weeding robot; and Harry, a precision drilling and planting robot. Finally, the service includes a neural-network powered artificial intelligence system to tie the hardware together.
Two of Small Robot Company's "Tom" robots, designed to monitor soil and crops. (Image: Small Robot Company)
Since these robots are prototypes and not finished products, they are still in active development. There doesn't seem to be a set public date for a full-scale launch just yet, but with £1.2 million raised via crowdfunding, it's clear the company believes it has identified a gap in the market it can exploit. The question now is: Can it sell these robots to customers as a full service, and will that service scale to thousands of farms?
Watson Jones commented: "This is game-changing for Small Robot Company. We have already made phenomenal progress. Just one year on from our foundation, we already have three prototype robots and an AI that can tell Wheat from Weed. With this backing through Crowdcube, we are now poised to completely transform food production."
He continued: "We were overwhelmed with the support we received from far and wide, and in particular from the farming community, who fueled our initial success. Thanks to hundreds of farmers flocking to support us, we smashed our target within minutes. Approaching two thirds of our initial success was due to farmers, who collectively contributed several hundred thousand pounds between them. This then fueled our campaign to achieve more than double our goal."