One of the main aims of this season’s hands free hectare (HfH) project has been to improve accuracy of the machines involved with the aim of boosting yield, as well as looking at autonomous life beyond the hectare.
Speaking at Cereals 2018, Kit Franklin, engineering lecturer at Harper Adams University said in the first year of HfH, tractor movements were not as accurate as he would have liked. “This meant gaps in the crop which was not good for yield. We have managed to increase coverage in this season’s winter wheat crop.”
Developing autonomous farm track navigation to drive the tractor to the field is also underway. “This involves sense and avoid technologies in case someone goes in front of the tractor,” says Mr Franklin.
HfH researchers involved in the project, now in its second season, are also looking at alternative systems to Wi Fi for communication. “We are working at the limits of Wi Fi and we are integrating 5G technology into the machines with the aim of 100 per cent coverage.”
Key challenges to developing an autonomous system include agronomy – with no-one allowed to enter the field - and transfer of, for example fuel, sprays and seeds to the various tractors and machinery, said Mr Franklin.
“You learn how many things you have overlooked. We all know what we are trying to do is possible but when you look to the future autonomous farm, so many aspects would have to be in place for it to be autonomous.”
Despite these obstacles, Mr Franklin expects autonomous systems to be used in horticulture, for example tractors driving between vines or soft fruit crops in the next five years and in broad-acre crops within the next decade.