Autonomous robots – even farming robots – are nothing new but what’s special to this story is not a single human set foot on the field throughout the duration from planting to harvest – instead aerial drones were used to survey the field and smaller robots were used to take soil samples to make adjustments for the use of the larger robots.
Agriculture is no stranger to autonomy. Tractors were among the first commercial autonomous vehicles, and there’s a huge market for drones packed with sensors that can help farmers make more informed decisions. The problem, though, is that farming is still work for humans. There’s still dirt, early mornings, dirt, more dirt, and a lot of hard work that involves some extra dirt. All this dirty-ness makes farming an ideal target for robots, especially since farms also offer repetitive tasks in a semi-constrained environment. At Harper Adams University, they’re taking the farm autonomy idea very seriously: Seriously enough that they’ve managed to plant, tend, and harvest an acre and a half of barley using only autonomous vehicles and drones.