Drones and autonomous vehicles help create the world’s first hands-free farm
Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionise the transportation sector, but their impact is not limited to cities, towns and other urban areas. Autonomous farm vehicles could help to transform the agricultural industry by enabling farmers to plant, tend and harvest their crops without being physically present.
And, in fact, a new project in the UK suggests that vision may not be very far off at all.
Harper Adams University, which is based in rural Shropshire and specialises in higher education for the agricultural and rural sector, and Precision Decisions, a York-based technology company that specialises in tech for precision farming, have announced the successful completion of their ‘Hands Free Hectare’ pilot project, which used autonomous vehicles and drones to remotely cultivate and harvest the world’s very first ‘hands free’ crop.
High Tech, Low Budget
With an incredibly small budget for such an ambitious project (£200,000, to be precise), the Hands Free Hectare project used autonomous tractors and autonomous combine harvesters to work the land and harvest the crop, in addition to employing drones to take aerial images and collect physical samples. The pilot project was able to produce a yield of 4.5 tonnes of barley, against a predicted yield of 5 tonnes – not too shabby for a first attempt in a notoriously unpredictable (and weather dependent) sector.
Jonathan Gill, a researcher at Harper Adams University and one of the project leads for the Hands Free Hectare project, believes farmers of the future could deploy entire fleets of autonomous agricultural vehicles to plant, tend and harvest their crops. He explained: “We believe the best solution is that in the future, farmers will manage fleets of smaller, autonomous vehicles. These will be able to go out and work in the fields, allowing the farmer to use their time more effectively and economically instead of having to drive up and down the fields.
“But it’s going to take new talent entering the industry to develop the technology. We hope that this project has helped to inspire some people and shown them the range of interesting and innovative jobs that are available now in agriculture.”
For now, though, the team behind the Hands Free Hectare project plan to celebrate their impressive harvest (and their world-first achievement) by using the barley to brew a batch of Hands Free Harvest beer.
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