Small, lightweight machines — a diary entry

Kristof Hayes
4 min readNov 5, 2023
Sunset over Watsonville, CA in October 2023

We started work in earnest a year ago with After winning some startup grant funding, we got built an initial prototype soil health monitoring robot, plans for which had been brewing for some time. I had an idea for a small, lightweight, intelligent machine that could deliver a suite of low-cost sensors across agricultural landscapes with ease.

The first few months were spent in typical engineering frenzy. We had component lists to finalise, orders to place, shipping to organise before diving into the integration work. Dark and dingy winter months in, well dark and dingy London maker spaces lend themselves to this phase of the R&D process. We built on an AgileX platform with E-Nano sensor delivery mechanism and NVIDIA computing hardware in a package small enough to fit in the back of a car. We even named the little guy — DUG — short for discover underground.

DUG soaking up the sun rays

In the Spring of 2023 we started taking DUG into the field. This is a brilliant time of year to spend outdoors. Life is abundant — plants and animals emerge from hibernation, you can almost sense biodiversity at work. For engineers emerging from their lairs, it’s a an opportunity to tweak systems, iron out reliability issues and improve on user experience.

During this time I had the opportunity to share the story more publicly at tech and farming meet-ups and events. Groundswell was a highlight of the year, where the team enjoyed days of learning, exchange, contemplation and musical farmers (!). The goal of meeting likeminded farming businesses was achieved with further farm visits later that summer adding to our photo albums. More importantly though it equips us with the strategic partnerships that will direct our R&D with more intent in the years to come.

Camping on regenerative land

In June this year we started our Grasslands AI project. We’re developing computer vision prototypes to be deployed in pastures. We’re lucky to be working with Re-Generation earth at their Bank Farm site, including an excellent regenerative farming advisor, Niels Corfield. We are fine-tuning tooling to measure agronomically relevant parameters — soil compaction, soil moisture and above ground visual assessments for species mix, ground cover. The visits always result in some treats acquired at the Egg Machine for the way home.

Measuring at regenerative outcomes

At Groundswell I met Gentle Farming and the Gent family of gents. We visited their family farm where they grow arable crops regeneratively. They have a vision for small, lightweight, intelligent machines with amazing tooling which we are excited to help make a reality. A close collaboration is evolving to develop regenerative tooling for the next generation agrobotics platforms. We have successfully acquired the first farm-ng unit in the UK, a capable little machine from California.

DUG making friends

As a founder, my responsibility is also to look ahead and build a vision for the company then make that vision a reality. I am actively planning the next period — plenty of work lies ahead defining a commercial offering, building the team, ensuring we have financial runway. There are some further partnerships in the pipeline (e.g. Team AG) that will see our solutions scale further and have the impact we believe is possible.

I’m lucky to have a growing cohort of people who are encouraging and supporting me along my founding journey from behind the scenes, for this I am grateful. Every time I connect with someone over the wish to develop appropriate technology solutions for regenerative agriculture, I get a kick and some validation that what our work can and will have an impact. Here’s to another year of!

Founder on the floor :)



Kristof Hayes

Engineer, technology and sustainability enthusiast. Writing about open source solutions, startups and the environment.