The Small Robot Company is at the forefront of a revolution in agriculture, offering autonomous precision agri-robots to solve the pressing challenge set by the UN: produce 70% more food by 2050 without expanding agricultural land or harming ecosystems. Departing from traditional methods involving tractors and heavy machinery, the company’s innovative approach leverages existing technology to achieve cost-effective, accurate, and efficient food production. While autonomous robots have already made their mark in agriculture, the Small Robot Company’s breakthroughs have emerged from a unique collaboration of farmers, professors, service designers, and engineers, incorporating cutting-edge robotics and AI. This model ushers in a new era of regenerative and profitable farming, epitomized by their flagship robot, Tom V4.
Addressing the Challenge
In response to the UN’s call for increased food production, the Small Robot Company pioneers autonomous farming robots that embody the principles of precision and efficiency. Unlike traditional machinery, these robots are designed to operate with minimal ecological impact. While robots for tasks like fruit picking and spraying have been deployed, Small Robot Company’s innovation shines through its integration of farmer insights, advanced technology, and AI. The result is a revolutionary “Per Plant” approach to farming, exemplified by their leading robot, Tom V4.
Protolab to enable transformation
Protolabs, a world-leading digital manufacturer, has played a pivotal role in supporting the development of game-changing agricultural hardware. The flagship product, the Tom V4 scanning robot, is a prime example. This robot scans crops with unparalleled detail, identifying individual plants and collecting data on plant and weed distribution. This information forms the basis for optimized treatment paths, enabling variable rate fertilizer applications and targeted herbicide application through precision nozzle and sectional control sprays.
A collaborative success
The collaboration between Small Robot Company and Protolabs has resulted in the creation of the Tom V4 robot, designed to evolve through various iterations in the future. Rhian Griffith, Mechanical Engineer at Small Robot Company, highlights the significance of Protolabs’ contribution to the project. The partnership allowed for the manufacturing of essential components like the SSD mount and the steering actuator cap, which form the foundation of the robot’s driving platform. This flexibility proves vital to the robot’s enduring success, ensuring its adaptability to different tasks beyond scanning.
The ingenious steering actuator
The steering actuator is at the heart of the Tom V4’s functionality—a mechanism crucial for the robot’s pathfinding capabilities. Small Robot Company designed this component to remain a key element in the robot’s functionality across its evolving generations. The steering actuator comprises a motor, planetary gear system, bearings, and an aluminum housing, topped with a 3D-printed cap provided by Protolabs. This cap seals the unit and safeguards it against water and dust, which is critical for maintaining the assembly’s delicate internal components.
Designing for success
The steering actuator’s complexity demands a manufacturing solution that combines protection and precision. The cap’s design, including a wire-securing channel, adds to its multifunctional nature. This intricate shape makes 3D printing the ideal manufacturing choice. Small Robot Company’s decision to bring the design of the steering actuator in-house not only reduced costs but also improved the overall design and reduced the robot’s weight, contributing to its operational efficiency.
A perfect partnership
Small Robot Company’s weight budget constraints necessitated a careful approach to manufacturing the steering actuator cap. The need to minimize the robot’s weight is twofold: it reduces the pressure exerted on the ground, protects crops and soil, and allows for a broader range of potential payloads. The decision to collaborate with Protolabs was driven by the latter’s expertise in 3D printing services. Protolabs’ additive manufacturing technologies, often utilized for end-use parts, aligned seamlessly with Small Robot Company’s vision.
A seamless collaboration
The collaboration with Protolabs was a strategic choice for the Small Robot Company. By leveraging Protolabs’ 3D printing service, the team successfully adhered to weight budget constraints while ensuring rapid production. The Protolabs quoting platform offered a quick and efficient way to communicate design specifications and receive manufacturing feedback. Rhian Griffith emphasizes the platform’s utility in identifying and addressing potential issues before production, making the partnership an evident choice for the project.
In essence, the partnership between Small Robot Company and Protolabs epitomizes the convergence of cutting-edge technology, visionary design, and collaborative innovation. The result is a revolutionary agricultural robot that is transforming the way we farm and paving the way for a more sustainable and productive future.