Farming robots to begin trial at Waitrose farm in Leckford
The John Lewis Partnership has embarked on a three-year trial to test farmbots at the Waitrose supermarket chain's farm in Leckford in Hampshire.
The Leckford Estate, which grows produce for Waitrose, will be working with the Small Robot Company to test the state-of-the-art farming technology on a one-hectare wheat field.
The trial will start with a prototype robot called Tom which is fitted with cameras to enable it to get the lay of the land by gathering topographical data.
This data will then be used to develop an AI system called Wilma which will eventually guide robots to farm autonomously. The trial will also be used to create and test prototype versions of Dick, a precision weeding robot, and Harry, a digital planting robot.
Dick will use machine vision to differentiate between weeds and crops, thereby enabling it to kill weeds with lasers. Meanwhile, Harry will accurately punch-plant seeds individually in the ground at a uniform depth to create a plant level map showing the exact location of each seed.
The trial will also provide The John Lewis Partnership's Room Y innovation team with insights to support innovation at Leckford and inform how robotics and Artificial Intelligence could be used further in other areas of the business.
Andrew Hoad, John Lewis partner and head of the Leckford Estate, said: “'We are very excited to trial Tom, Dick and Harry at the Leckford Estate. The Waitrose & Partners farm has a long history in producing a wide variety of high quality crops. We work hard to farm in harmony with the environment and our vision for sustainable farming is aligned to what the Small Robot Company is trying to achieve.
“This new technology could be revolutionary for British farming. It is not designed to replace human labour but instead boost productivity and increase accuracy, freeing up the agricultural workforce to focus on other important tasks. We want to be at the forefront of this, and ensure we leave our soils and environment in great shape for future generations.”
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