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Precision robots ‘can boost productivity and profits’

New tech from Manufacturing Technology Centre is on trial at 20 UK farms with hopes the robots could replace tractors for many jobs

Precision robots ‘can boost productivity and profits’

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New precision drilling and planting robots have been developed by Coventry-based robotics specialist the Manufacturing Technology Centre in partnership with the Small Robot Company.

MTC engineers and scientists worked with the Hampshire-based agri-tech start-up to develop a new generation of agricultural technology, which they say could replace tractors for many jobs.

The small digitally-controlled robots are able to plant, feed and weed crops precisely and autonomously with minimum waste. 

By minimising chemical use and allowing for more precise planting and weeding, the farmbots will boost yield and efficiency, making farms more profitable, MTC said.

Prototypes of the robots have been produced and are carrying out field trials on 20 farms across the UK, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate Farm and the National Trust's Wimpole Estate. 

Funding for the project has come from Innovate UK and the MTC, boosted by £1.2 million in crowdfunding.

The Small Robot Company, based in Hampshire, was set up by digital entrepreneur Ben Scott-Robinson and fourth-generation farmer Sam Watson Jones. 

They were inspired by work at the National Centre for Precision Farming at Harper Adams agricultural college, which suggested that much of the work done by tractors could be carried out better by a series of highly accurate, smart, lightweight robots.

Jeremy Hadall, chief engineer for intelligent automation at the MTC, said the technology had the potential to “improve yields, and therefore profits, while substantially reducing the use of chemicals”. 

He added: “The technology harnesses manufacturing advances used in traditional manufacturing industries and allows exceptional accuracy, while creating a map showing the location of each seed.

"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," he added.

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