The harvest season started all around the world, but a specific farm in the United Kingdom has a game-changing system of harvesting – robots.Harper Adams University, became the prototype for a new experiment: the world’s first robotically tended farm. Work that used to be done manually by human farmers: fertilizing, sowing, collecting the samples and harvesting, is now being done by electric vehicles.
The research team behind the project is driven by the idea that robotic technology is going to improve the yields in agriculture, and this is a necessity as the world is growing fast and the population demands more. The team is using basic commercial agriculture machines along with open-source software, used to handle the drones.
When it comes to agriculture, the problem of autonomy is a huge issue because nobody managed to solve it yet, said Jonathan Gill, mechatronics researcher at Harper Adams University who is also the leader of the project. But “impossible” is not a real word in the book of Mr. Gill. The researcher asked himself how is it possible for drones to fly automatically, then the problem is half solved.
The team has in its arsenal several small-size agricultural machines which include a combine, a tractor, and a machine that harvests grain crops. The machines are fitted with actuators that allows them to control the electronics without the need of a human being.
Mr. Gill told us that the first stage of this project was to make it all radio controlled. From that point, they moved to preprogram all the actions that needed to be performed by the autopilot system. Martin Abell, Mr. Gill’s collaborator, explained that this system is following a certain trajectory and it has preprogrammed stops that perform certain actions.
All the machines are navigating with the help of the GPS, and they are driving towards targets that are predetermined. One of the struggles of the project is to make the machines follow a straight line, which results in quite a lot of frustration and mechanical damage. However, the engineers are optimistic to solve the problem in the coming years.
The drones come in action to monitor the field and take samples of the plants. The team developed a new type of grippers that are attached to the flying machines. When the drone flies above the farm, the grippers are cutting off samples and deliver them to the researchers.
The scientists agree that the new technology might allow future farmers to have a greater precision at distributing fertilizers and herbicides. It will also allow them to improve the soil quality. At this moment, in order to achieve all the required tasks in a reasonable amount of time, farmers have to rely on too many heavy machines. In the future, they could use the help of drones and smaller robotic tractors to harvest.