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Jonathan Gill: The Drone Pilot

Jonathan Gill is a Robotics Researcher & Drone Pilot at Harper Adams University where he is revolutionising the future of how we farm.

Jonathan Gill
Jonathan Gill

Me and my work


I am a technology enthusiast and work as a Robotics Researcher at Harpers Adams University where I use drone systems to inspect crops.

The drones allow me to assess how well the crop is growing and whether it is healthy.

I can spot problem areas, fix them, and help farmers increase the volume of crops produced to feed us.


My interest in robotics



I have always been interested in technology, that’s how I got into robotics.

I like making machines that can do a job far better than I can myself.

I did a robotics degree at Plymouth University.

One of my projects was making a replica of a hammerhead shark that swam like a real fish.

I created it with £55 of funding from the uni and my job at Dominoes Pizza, which is a lot less than the half a million pounds it took Macheuutes Institute Technology to make their robo-trout.

After graduating I got a job at the National Marine Aquarium looking at renewable technologies and exploring the ocean.

I then got to work offshore for Oceaneering for six and a half years on oil rigs around the world, from Greenland down to Egypt.

But, I felt like I was taking from the planet and not giving back, I missed the countryside and wildlife of England, so I secured my job and now live in Shropshire.


“We need to change the idea that exciting jobs are only in the cities; they are right here in the countryside too."

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Jonathan working on his drone
Jonathan working on his drone

I co-achieved a world first


In a world first, I was part of the team behind the ambitious Hands Free Hectare project.

We became the first in the world to plant, tend and harvest a crop with only drones and autonomous vehicles.

No humans entered the field. From the first year of the project, we gained worldwide attention, with articles, blogs and broadcast items appearing in 85 countries.

We were invited to talk at conferences and events in various countries, won the BBC Future Food Award and invited to Buckingham Palace where the University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, and we’ve received the Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) Team Achievement Award.


The Hands Free Hectare has been a life-changing project and we have received funding to create a whole hands-free farm.

“I have met so many passionate people with big ideas.”

The future of autonomous farming


A fully automated drone system that takes off, does its job, then comes back to recharge will come in the future.

The important decisions about what to spray and where will always need a human element.

You don’t have to own technology to be able to use it – ordering it will be as simple as scheduling an Uber.

2020 is going to be an exciting year.

There will be some amazing spray drone demonstration events to come this summer, which will be all about learning how to apply chemicals over a field, which doesn’t damage the soil.

A drone has the capability to go exactly where you want it to and applying the exact dose needed.


It’s wonderful to think we can empower agriculture and our farmers to give them a safer environment to work in.

That’s what robotics is all about.

We need to change the idea that exciting jobs are only in the cities; they are here in the countryside too.


Drones and Covid-19


With drones already being used in China to disinfect large areas, Harper Adams University is lobbying Government to approve the use of drones designed to spray crops, to disinfect coronavirus infection hotspots throughout the UK.


“We’re working with XAG trying to import a number of drones which have effectively been used in China to start tackling the infection over here.


XAG can send 10 systems to us if we were to get help and British Airways were kind enough to say they would charter a flight from China if it’s a thing of importance.”


"These are really capable machines. A drone can spray 600,000sq.m a day, the equivalent of 100 workers equipped with knapsack sprayers, and without the need for PPE.


Not only that, after a drone has sprayed an area, it can return to that area and spray it again fully autonomously with an accuracy of ±1cm repeatedly, meeting the requirement for repeated and regular spraying of key areas. And of course, as it’s a robot it can’t get Covid-19 itself.


“The drone taskforce has the capability to disinfect area where there’s been large congregations of people and areas like entrances to hospitals and around ambulances.”


You can read Jonathan’s full report on automation here


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