Autonomous machine harvests first robot-grown crop

An autonomous harvester starts to cut robot-grown barley
Farmers Weekly, 6 September 2017

World’s first robotically grown crop harvested

An autonomous combine harvester has completed harvesting the world’s first crop of barley grown from start to finish by robots. The machine, which is guided by the mapping system used in drones, took around five hours to cut the Hands Free Hectare, having been hampered by rain. The £200,000 project, funded by Innovation UK and run by Harper Adams University with Precision Decisions, has modified existing machinery to drill, sow, spray and harvest the crop entirely robotically. As no human is allowed to set foot in the fenced-off crop, the team used a drone adapted with a robotic grabber and fitted with metal teeth to collect a sample before combining could begin. The team is hoping to send the barley for malting in order to produce a Hands Free Hectare beer.

Looking ahead, Harper Adams project lead Kit Franklin said the team wants to secure further funding to continue the project by planting a winter crop in the field. “We are currently trying to secure that funding, but we will need considerably less going forward,” he said. “We want the project to continue as it is now, to drill again with improvements. We have changed some hard-wear so it would be much straighter second time round. “Beyond that, as a consortium we are discussing bigger ongoing projects off the back of the Hands Free Hectare project,” he said. “We are looking to grow and commercialise some elements, and maybe run a hands-free farm with multiple fields and crops in a couple of years’ time. “That’s very early doors. For now we want to roll it again the same, then do it bigger and better.”

On the market

Mr Franklin said commercialisation of elements of the technology is within reach of manufacturers, with investment needed to just prove ruggedness and robustness for the market. The adaptations made by the team to the combine and tractor to make them autonomous have cost just £10,000 each by using open source technology developed by hobby communities. He said the project has proved just how cheap autonomy can be, and machinery could easily be on farm for £40,000.