A British supermarket chain, Waitrose & Partners’ parent company, John Lewis Partnership has teamed up the Small Robot Company to start a three-year trial to use three small farm robots to grow produce. These farmbots, called Tom, Dick, and Harry (we did not made up those names, btw), are part of the study to see how automation can help to increase agricultural efficiency. With the help of an AI system called Wilma, Tom, Dick, and Harry will work round-the-clock on a one-hectare (2.5 acre) wheat field on Lewis’ Leckford Estate where they do things like plant-by-plant map of the topography, weeding, and sowing of seeds.
Tom the surveyor of sort that monitors the plants (you can say Tom will have an intimate relationship with the crops), while Dick is a ‘ruthless’ bot responsible for fertilizing the crops and getting rid of nasty weeds and Harry sows the seeds at a uniform depth and in a precise manner. Obviously, unlike human workers, these bots can keep on working, regardless of conditions, and thereby potentially bumping up productivity. And since they are tiny, they can carry out their assigned duties with utmost attention to details and with minimal damage to the field like large, conventional machinery does. So, is UK facing a shortage of farmers?
Well, not exactly. However, the country is facing a rising cost in farming costs and at the same time, the demand for agricultural produce is not letting up. Thus, with these robot farmers, John Lewis Partnership hope to ease the pressure on farmers to produce more while bumping up productivity. At least, those are what this partnership between the supermarket chain and the robotic company hope to achieve. It is worthy to note that it is a trial and therefore, whether or not these tiny bots can meet humans’ demand remains to be seen.
Images: Small Robot Company.