Hands Free Hectare team host Open Day

The Hands Free Hectare (HFHa) team has hosted an event to share their learnings from their connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) project to representatives and experts from the agricultural engineering industry.

The event also aimed to open discussions between all of the participants about what a successful good practice guide for the operation of autonomous vehicles in agriculture would include.

The HFHa CAV project was run in partnership between Harper Adams University, Precision Decisions, Farmscan AG UK and the Agri-EPI Centre.

Opening the day at the Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, Clive Blacker of Precision Decisions said: “The HFHa project was run in a very controlled environment.

“While working on the original project of growing and harvesting a crop, we realised that there would be the need for a system to navigate from the workshop or shed to the field, in possibly larger vehicles than we’d used in the project, and the journey would include travel on roads and a number of other obstacles.

“We secured some Innovate UK funding so we could develop our ISEKI tractor to be intelligent enough to drive itself to the field and to manage obstacles encountered on route.

“We started by looking at what was already available, and found that currently systems for these tasks are in their infancy, so we’re not at a point when we’ll see them being fully integrated.

“We wanted to disseminate our learnings and look at questions today that will have to be answered if robots are to become integrated part of systems; which I believe they will be.”

Clive explained that he envisions a framework would need to be created that would include elements relating to health and safety, industry standards and responsibility.

He also highlighted the risk of tractors requiring two different systems: “The last thing we want is to see two different robotic systems being required in a tractor due to the different safety standards for road and agriculture. We therefore believe that we need to create a good practice guide.”

A demonstration of the ISEKI tractor driving from just outside of the workshop to the HFHa field was then shared with the participants. Senior Agricultural Engineering Lecturer Kit Franklin said: “Previously our tractor had a fail-safe system which was very risk adverse; if it identified an obstacle it would just automatically stop and turn-off. Now, it slows down if an obstacle is four meters ahead and pauses if something is one meter from its wheels. It’s a step-up from where we were, but we’d have liked to have gone further to avoid obstacles.”