Team at Small Robot Company Celebrating in a Field

Small Robot Company (SRC), an agritech start-up for sustainable farming, today announced £700,000 successful funding for its latest Crowdcube equity crowdfunding campaign.

It reached its initial funding target of £700,000 within two days of its launch, hitting £560,000 within minutes. The company is now raising additional funds to further accelerate its development. Investors can access the campaign at www.crowdcube.com/smallrobotcompany.

The funding secured will finance SRC’s non-chemical weed zapping robot, Dick, to field trials, and the manufacture of a fleet of Tom monitoring robots for its commercial weed mapping service. The company’s hugely successful campaign received support from far and wide. Its biggest support came from the farming, technology and ‘eco’ communities. 

Agriculture is a $2.4 trillion industry, with the precision farming market a huge global opportunity for investors. Goldman Sachs predicts that the market for digital agricultural technology will be $240 billion by 2050, up from just over $5 billion today. 

Small Robot Company's mission is to maximise food production while reducing its cost on the environment. Using robotics and artificial intelligence, it has created an entirely new model for ecologically harmonious, efficient and profitable farming. Its farmbots Tom, Dick and Harry will plant, monitor and treat arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste. 

"We hit half a million pounds within minutes. This landslide success demonstrates the huge appetite for agtech - and the demand from farmers. This completely ignited our fundraising,” comments Sam Watson-Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company. “It’s inspiring to see how much support there is for innovation in agriculture. It feels like the time is right for these technologies to start making a difference.”

“It's also closely aligned with the new Agricultural Bill: our technology is at the heart of these systemic changes in farming. Now is the time for us to work together to create a more sustainable farming model: and for farmers - rightly - to be rewarded for their efforts. The recent huge advances in agtech finally make this possible: and farmers are integral to the environmental solution.”

“Since our last raise, we have achieved our major delivery milestone of moving from proof of concept to commercially-ready prototype. This next raise will help us to begin manufacturing our robots, as well as delivering our weed zapping technology,” comments Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company. “Our campaign is now overfunding to reach our stretch target, looking to raise additional funds to accelerate our development.”

Small Robot Company has secured more than £2.5m in funding to date, including £1.2m from its previous Crowdcube raise, and more than £1m in government Innovate UK grants.

This includes an £800,000 grant for its ‘Wilma’ artificial intelligence weed recognition and ‘Tom’ weed mapping technology. This was one of the largest single agritech grants made under Innovate UK’s innovation scheme in 2018. 

Calum Murray, Innovate UK’s Head of Agriculture & Food, said: “It’s fantastic to see how Innovate UK’s funding has supported Small Robot Company to develop game changing technologies that will revolutionize the agriculture sector. This innovative technology will allow farmers for the first time ever to use non-chemical precision robotic weeding for cereal, whilst saving energy and reducing costs. At Innovate UK, we are proud to be supporting the transformation of the UK’s food production systems, improving productivity and sustainability, and helping the industry move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2040.”

Matt Jones, Principal Designer, Google AI, and investor in Small Robot Company says: “Anything that can help change for the better the way we produce food on this planet is urgently needed,” comments. “I’m excited to invest and support the Small Robot Company team in their mission to change farming for the better with humanscale AI and robotics.”

Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s Head of Farming and Soils, comments: “Technology needs to play a big part in solving many of the issues we currently face in farming – particularly improving soil health and carbon sequestration, reducing our reliance on fossil fuel power and fertilisers and avoiding the adverse impacts of synthetic chemicals on the environment. We have started small robot trials at Wimpole and intend to extend trials to other estates in the near future.”

Small Robot Company is currently in field trials on 20 farms across the UK, working in conjunction with its trial farmers to develop its sustainable farming technology. Trial farms include the Waitrose Leckford Estate farm and the National Trust Wimpole Estate, who are both already trialing SRC’s first commercial weed mapping service, which uses SRC’s next generation ‘Tom’ monitoring robot to first locate the weeds. This is the world's first service for individual plant mapping at a broadacre scale. 

Working together in partnership with British start up RootWave, Small Robot Company has successfully completed development of its ‘Dick’ non-chemical weeding robot prototype to in-lab proof of concept stage, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4.0. An initial prototype will go into field trials in 2020, with the commercial weed zapping service anticipated to be available from autumn 2021. 

This is a major technological milestone which will enable automated, precision, per-plant weeding both at scale and autonomously, for the first time providing a post-glyphosate future for arable farmers. With up to 95% of chemicals wasted in the current farming system, this new non-chemical weeding technology will be significantly more nature-friendly and better for biodiversity. 

SRC’s Wilma (its AI 'nervous system' and brains of the operation) is also now in use for commercial weed identification and decision support. Wilma can now detect both BLW and emerging wheat, following extensive training using tens of thousands of images from the last year’s data collection. Working with partner Cosmonio, work is now underway for identification of grass type weeds such as blackgrass, brome and ryegrass, the mapping of which is scheduled to follow next autumn.

Andrew Hoad, Partner & Head of Waitrose’s Leckford Estate, comments: “This technology could be truly groundbreaking and has the potential to shape how we farm in the future. By helping us be more precise and targeted in controlling weeds and managing pests, this next generation of farming robots could in turn help us protect biodiversity on our land and preserve the natural environment for future generations.”

“We’re on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution, taking farming into the digital age: and with British ideas and British technology at the helm,” says Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company. “Our Tom, Dick and Harry robots will completely transform what’s possible on the farm. It will radically reduce chemical usage in arable farming, while improving soils, profits and yields. It’s the ultimate sustainable farming model.”

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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