% Agriculture (ag) Electric-drones are now a valuable resource for the
ag-industry (farmers). e-drones can go where expensive heavy ag equipment
can't w/o damaging crops and or soil. e-drones also allow an aging farmer
work force control several robots remotely, even program an AI to do routine
on a set flight-pattern, or special tasks with specific instructions.
Ag-player John Deere is getting involved gobbling/buying up AI and other
auton companies that can be useful to the ag-equipment JD sells. %

This farm has no farmers
October 3, 2017  Claire Downs

[videos  dated
Time-lapse of harvest
Sep 7, 2017 - Uploaded by Hands Free Hectare HFH
Watch the whole six hour harvest in only under a minute and a half!

#34 'Ands It Off' Farmers weekley Harvest Live
Sep 5, 2017 - Uploaded by Hands Free Hectare HFH
Autonomus combine from the Hands Free Hectare Team cutting the first strip
to test the systems capabilities ...

The 'Hands Free Hectare' gives us a peek at the future of automated

Just after sunset on Sept. 6, 2017, celebrations erupted on a farm in the
quiet county of Shropshire, England. After a year of hard labor and careful
planning, researchers achieved the previously impossible: the world's first
fully automated harvest -- from barren land to flourishing crops -- had been
successfully completed. The "Hands Free Hectare" [
] used nothing but robots, and was yet another step forward in
revolutionizing how we feed the world.

After receiving £200,000 in government funding in October 2016, the team
from Harper Adams University set to work modifying a tractor and 25-year-old
combine with cameras, lasers and GPS systems. [Electric] Drones aided in
monitoring the field, while a robot "scout" scooped up soil samples for

Previous studies on driverless tractors have used large machines to get the
job done. But the Harper Adams team used another tactic: Their small tractor
and combine were able to make more precise movements, limit damage to soil
for future harvests and increase efficiency.  

The harvest yielded 4.9 tons of barley, which Kit Franklin, the project's
leader, told The Times is "the most expensive hectare of barley ever." The
plan, of course, is to eventually bring the price of autonomous farming down
via economies of scale.

The Hands Free Hectare farm joins a host of other companies and
organizations pushing farming further toward automation. Last month, tractor
manufacturer John Deere purchased [
] the AI company Blue River Technology with the goal of using machine vision
tools to automate weed-killing. Wall-Ye [
], a French grape-picking robot, has enchanted Burgundy's wine region for
years. Kyoto-based robo lettuce farm Spread [
] hopes to produce 30,000 heads of lettuce a day and decrease energy costs
by one third. Meanwhile, drones are changing the way that farmers monitor
their crops all around the world.

Robots are also the key to aiding a dwindling and aging farming workforce.
As labor shortages [
] in states like California raise concerns about the future of farming,
agriculture is starting to lean more on robots. "It's not about putting
people out of jobs; instead changing the job they do," Franklin said in a
statement [
]. "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
analyst, looking after a number of farming robots and meticulously
monitoring the development of their crops."

Automation isn't all about replacing jobs that humans do; often it's about
doing jobs that humans can't do. For many ag-tech companies, that means data
collection [
] and deep learning. The startup Descartes Labs [
], for instance, uses satellite imaging data to predict crop yields, a task
that could be a valuable resource for governments wanting to predict food
shortages or the impacts of climate change.

The Hands Free Hectare farmers, meanwhile, plan to use their newly reaped
barley to crack open a couple cold ones: The farm hopes to brew some
delicious beer with their robotically harvested key ingredient.  
[© CBS Interactive]

Robotic Farm Completes 1st Fully Autonomous Harvest
Sep 29, 2017  

Partner Series  Robotic Farm Completes 1st Fully Autonomous Harvest 
Hands Free Hectare is an experimental farm run by researchers from Harper
Adams University, in the United Kingdom.  / Harper Adams University

 It's harvest season in many parts of the world, but on one farm in the
United Kingdom, robots — not humans — are doing all the heavy lifting. 

At Hands Free Hectare, an experimental farm run by researchers from Harper
Adams University, in the village of Edgmond in the U.K., about 5 tons (4.5
metric tons) of spring barley have been harvested from the world’s first
robotically tended farm. Everything from start to finish — including sowing,
fertilizing, collecting samples and harvesting — has been done by autonomous
vehicles on the farm, according to the researchers.

The team behind the project thinks that robotic technology could improve
yields in agriculture, which is necessary if the world's growing population
is to be fed in coming years. (Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic

The researchers tackled this problem by using commercially available
agriculture machines and open-source software that is used to guide
hobbyists’ drones.

"In agriculture, nobody has really managed to solve the problem of
autonomy," said Jonathan Gill, mechatronics researcher at Harper Adams
University, who led the project."We were like, Why is this not possible? If
it's possible in drone autopilots that are relatively cheap, how come there
are companies out there that are charging exorbitant amounts of money to
actually have a system that just follows a straight line?"

The researchers purchased several small-size agricultural machines,
including a tractor and a combine, a machine for harvesting grain crops.
They then fitted the machines with actuators, electronics and robotic
technology that would allow them to control the machines without the
presence of a human operator.

"The first stage was to make it radio controlled," Gill said. "This was our
first step towards autonomy. From that point, we moved on to preprogram all
the actions that need to be performed into the autopilot system."

Gill's collaborator, Martin Abell, who works for Precision Decisions, an
industrial agricultural company that partners with the university, explained
that the system follows a certain trajectory with preprogrammed stops to
perform certain actions.

"The vehicles navigate entirely based on the GPS, and they are just
essentially driving towards targets that we predetermined," Abell said. "At
different GPS targets, there are different actions designed to be carried

Abell said the researchers struggled to make the machines follow a straight
line, which initially resulted in quite a lot of crop damage. However, the
scientists think they will be able to fix the problem in the coming years
and will eventually achieve better yields than a conventionally maintained
farm of the same size could produce.

To monitor the field and take samples of the plants, the researchers
developed special grippers attached to drones. As the drone flies above the
field, the grippers can cut off some samples and deliver them to the

The scientists said that the robotic technology could enable future farmers
to more precisely distribute fertilizers and herbicides, but could also lead
to improvements in soil quality. Currently, to achieve all the required
tasks in a reasonable amount of time, farmers rely on very large and heavy
machines. In the future, they could use flocks of smaller robotic tractors
and harvesters, the researchers said.

The farmer would, for example, be able to apply fertilizer only to the
plants that are doing poorly and wouldn’t waste it on those that don't need
it, the researchers explained.

"At the moment, the machines used in agriculture are large, they operate
quickly, they cover large areas of ground quickly, but with it comes
inaccuracy," Abell said. "Small machines working with smaller working widths
would provide a means to bring the resolution down. Instead of a 100-foot
(30 meters) sprayer, you would have a 20-foot (6 m) sprayer, and that’s just
the beginning of making things smaller."

The Harper Adams team plans to use the robotically harvested spring barley
to make a limited batch of "hands-free" beer that will be distributed to the
project’s partners as a token of thanks.

In the coming years, they want to focus on improving the precision of the
procedures and quantify the effects of the robotic technology on the yields.
[© 2017 Purch]

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