Tag Archives: Harper Adams

Could ‘Hands Free Hectre’ Revolutionise UK Farming

Field to be farmed exclusively by robots – a world-first

The HFH team: Martin Abell, Joanthan Gill and Kit Franklin

The HFH team: Martin Abell, Joanthan Gill and Kit Franklin

As a team, we believe there is now no technological barrier to automated field agriculture. This project gives us the opportunity to prove this and change current public perception.”


In a world-first, members of Harper Adams University engineering staff, supported and led by precision farming specialist Precision Decisions Ltd, are attempting to grow and harvest a hectare of cereal crops; all without stepping a foot into the field.

The project entitled ‘Hands Free Hectare’ has recently got underway, with the team having to create their first autonomous farming machinery, ready for drilling a spring crop in March.

Kit Franklin, one of the researchers, said: “As a team, we believe there is now no technological barrier to automated field agriculture. This project gives us the opportunity to prove this and change current public perception.

“Previously, people have automised sections of agricultural systems, but funding and interest generally only goes towards one single area. We’re hoping to string everything together to create one whole system, which will allow us to farm our hectare of cereal crop from establishment to harvest, without having to go into the field.

“We are confident that we are going to be successful implementing current open source technology, but obviously there is an element of risk. This is the first time in the world that this has been done but pushing boundaries is what engineering research is about.

“We will be using small-scale machinery that is already available on the market, and adapting these in the university’s engineering labs ready for the autonomous field work.

“We will be drilling a spring crop in March. April to July will comprise crop husband activities with remote agronomy and autonomous application of required inputs and then harvesting in August and September.”

On why this project is important, Kit added: “Automation is the future of farming. We’re currently at a stage where farm machinery has got to unsustainable sizes.

“Over the years agricultural machines have been getting bigger increasing work rates. This has suited the UK’s unpredictable climatic working windows and reduced rural staff availability.

“But with these larger machines, we are seeing a number of issues, including reduced soil health through compaction which hinders plant growth, as well as reduced application and measuring resolution, critical for precision farming, as sprayer and harvesting widths increase.

“Automation will facilitate a sustainable system where multiple smaller, lighter machines will enter the field, minimising the level of compaction. These small autonomous machines will in turn facilitate high resolution precision farming, where different areas of the field, and possibly even individual plants can be treated separately, optimising and potentially reducing inputs being used in field agriculture.

“It’s not about putting people out of jobs; instead changing the job they do. The tractor driver won’t be physically in the tractor driving up and down a field. Instead, they will be a fleet manager and agricultural analysts, looking after a number of farming robots and meticulously monitoring the development of their crops.

The project’s main partner is Precision Decisions Ltd. Clive Blacker, managing director and Hands Free Hectare project lead said: “The opportunity to convert our current experience of autosteer and precision agronomy solutions and embark on an autonomous solution is very exciting.

“Automation undoubtedly will become a large part of agriculture’s future. By working with Harper Adams, the leading global centre for agricultural robotic research, this allows us to understand the challenges autonomous solutions bring and to develop new tools and services from this opportunity.

“What we learn from this experience is fundamental in allowing us to fulfil the needs of tomorrow`s farmer, to fully embrace the digital revolution we face today.”

Updates on the project will be shared by the team via social media: Twitter (@FreeHectare), YouTube, and Facebook (@HandsFreeHecatre).

Funding for the project is being provided through the Innovate UK – Satellites and agri-food competition. This competition is providing funding to projects aiming to improve the productivity of agri-food systems using satellite technology.

Source: Harper-Adams University

Autonomous Robot to help Winegrowers

James Thomas and Kit Franklin with Dionysus

James Thomas and Kit Franklin with Dionysus

Kit and James in the engineering workshop

Kit and James in the engineering workshop

The students test the vehicle with Head of Engineering, Professor Simon Blackmore

The students test the vehicle with Head of Engineering, Professor Simon Blackmore

Farmers around the world will be able to improve their irrigation efficiency thanks to an autonomous vineyard robot developed at Harper Adams University.

‘Dionysus’ has been created to use thermal imaging sensors to detect moisture levels in grape vines. This data will then be used to inform farmers as to whether irrigation is required.

Three MEng Agricultural Engineering students at the university in Shropshire have designed and built the project – James Thomas, Kit Franklin and Chris White.

23-year-old James from Devizes in Wiltshire, said: “We had to select an appropriate vehicle to work in vineyards, in this case, a child’s quad bike. We then designed our own control systems to control steering, throttle and braking.

“We have also designed a series of safety features as when Dionysus is in autonomous mode, it is important that the engine cuts out, should a safety issue arise.”

Kit, 23, from South Cerney in Cirencester, added: “These systems are linked to a laptop running SAFAR agricultural robotic software, which takes readings from GPS and also a SICK laser scanner on the front of Dionysus.

“This then guides the vehicle on a pre-set path around the vineyard.”

The team has been working on the project for the past few months, building on skills and knowledge developed during the five years spent studying at Harper Adams.

Tasks were assigned to each team member to share the workload and to get to grips with the complex systems involved.

Kit added: “This project has enabled us to develop our skills in areas such as mechanical engineering, electrical systems engineering and applications engineering.

“As we’ve had to source suitable components from outside suppliers, there has been a lot of contact with professional engineers and industry experts.

“Developing Dionysus has proven to be very good training for our future careers.”

Dionysus is the first of many robotic/autonomous systems which are to be developed by the Harper Adams Engineering Department as part of the National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF).

The NCPF promotes and evaluates the use of technology as a vital aspect of precision agriculture, building on Harper Adams University’s reputation as an innovator within engineering.

Source: Harper Adams