The Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agritech start-up for sustainable farming, has announced its partnership in the 5G RuralDorset project together with Wessex Internet, Telint and Dorset Council. The project will develop and prove a blueprint for rural-optimised 5G connectivity, with the world’s first 5G-ready agri-robot for arable farms.
This will enable the rapid deployment of 5G to rural areas, with the potential to close the rural/urban digital divide. The project will develop an affordable, reliable and interoperable 5G network that is custom designed for farmers and the particular challenges of rural connectivity. The £7 million project is being part-funded (£4.5m) by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport as part of its 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme.
The 5G robotics trial aims to demonstrate a revolution in farming, increasing productivity, yields and biodiversity while reducing the environmental impact. It also looks to improve soil health and reduce emissions, helping farmers to meet the UK agriculture target of net zero by 2040.
Alongside the work with SRC, Wessex Internet is working with other future industry players to trial uses of 5G connectivity in agriculture. The aim is to deliver novel high/mid bandwidth 5G solutions and breakthrough innovation within agriculture. The anticipated benefits include empowering farmers with cost-effective, interoperable agritech, with more localised and efficient supply chains, linking local needs with local produce to improve food security, reduce waste and provide higher-value local produce.
“This 5G blueprint could be a catalyst for rural economies – with our robots demonstrating the potential for 5G to transform agricultural productivity. Connectivity is not a luxury. It’s a utility. And vital to economic performance,” commented Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO and co-founder, Small Robot Company. “5G technological development within agriculture is vital post-Brexit. One of the biggest obstacles facing UK farmers in adopting new technologies is poor connectivity around the farm. This 5G blueprint will pave the way for growth in the rural economy – and alongside it a greatly-improved quality of life.”
The project will build a 5G ecosystem within the agriculture/aquaculture industry. Wessex Internet will trial uses of 5G connectivity in agriculture, looking to establish sustainable business models that can be rapidly commercialised. Rural-optimised 5G could potentially reduce the cost of operating robots, and it is anticipated that 5G robotics will enable real-time capabilities such as the ability to identify pests and to enable farmers to act faster to exploit dry weather windows.
These trials will be the first to demonstrate wide-scale autonomy of robotic farming operations, including the development of the UK’s first 5G-ready agri-robot, development of the first scalable and costed ‘as a service’ product, the development of SRC’s first ready-for-market agri-robot and the first on-farm, 5G-enabled robot ‘kennel’. The 5G-connected Robot Handler App will allow the operator to see live data or take control of the robot in the field.
The combination of these systems will aim to process huge volumes of data to allow farmers to take timely corrective action.
Mike Donnachie, farm manager at Ranston Farms noted: “Having precise and accurate data to hand so I can make instant decisions will bring great benefit into the future.”
Wessex Internet will be delivering three farm 5G networks on the back of its existing 2,100km full-fibre network as part of the trials, testing the technical and commercial viability of 5G deployment. SRC will trial its robots at the Ranston Farms 5G site.
SRC is building a 5G enabled Tom monitoring robot, alongside the ‘kennel’ and Robot Handling App. The project scope also includes a 5G Dick non-chemical weeding robot, with testing due to start in Dorset and run from October 2021 through to March 2022.
Sam Watson Jones, president and co-founder, Small Robot Company, concludes: “The opportunity is immense. Our technology is closely aligned with the new Agricultural Bill, at the heart of these systemic changes in farming. The 5G RuralDorset Project is an opportunity for us to work with farmers to create a more sustainable and productive farming model. The recent huge advances in agtech finally make this possible: and farmers are integral to the environmental solution.”