Agri-tech company Farmscan AG is supporting the development of UK’s first completely connected, autonomous farm. Working with Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions, within the next three years the project aims to upscale the original ‘Hands Free Hectare’ project to a site 35 times the size.
Callum Chalmers, Farmscan AG’s Business Development Manager, will be sharing early results of the ambitious project at Agri-Tech East’s ‘The Connected Farm’ event in Cambridge next month. He explains: “Originally Harper Adams had the goal to grow one hectare of arable crops using autonomous machines.
“We met the team at an event and, knowing they were looking to expand, offered up our commercially available system, so that the project could be developed using something farm-ready rather than having to develop software and systems from scratch.
“Our system has always focused on connecting farm vehicles as well as the wider farm infrastructure. This means the vehicles must manoeuvring between fields, not just in the field, for autonomous farming.
“We started working with Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions in April and by 2022 we aim to have a completely autonomous farm, with all of the vehicles pre-programmed to work with efficiency – and without human drivers. Through the project, we’re upgrading our software so it includes the features a farmer will need to control an autonomous farm in the future.”
Farmscan AG is one of the first agri-tech companies to release an autonomous module for its precision control platform, opening up its product for integration by other manufacturers.
“Interoperability is a huge issue for farmers,” Callum continues. “The ISOBUS protocol is one of the solutions that is reasonably advanced – where everyone has agreed to follow a protocol so those devices plug-and-play – and the challenge to manufacturers, and for farmers, about machinery being built now is how connected it will all be.
“Farmers need devices to work, it’s not their responsibility to navigate this – it’s the role of manufacturers and technology companies to fix it. We are as open source as we can be, we want something that add value for farmers, not locks them in.”
Equipping farmers with easy-to-use systems that enable agri-tech integration is crucial for a productive, profitable and sustainable agricultural industry moving forwards. It’s something Farmscan AG recognised almost a decade ago, when they originally set up in Australia to support farm businesses even in the harshest outback. Now based in north London, they moved to the UK three years ago to become part of Cambridge’s leading agri-tech cluster.
“Making connected devices is easy, but ensuring they actually connect – especially in rural areas – is the hard part. I know there have been a fair few 5G projects looking at this, but agriculture is based in geographically and topographically challenging areas so I think there’s a long way still to go.
“It’s why we’re excited to be working on a project that is about ensuring that every device, autonomous vehicle and the whole farm infrastructure is connected up.”
Callum is one of the speakers at the Agri-Tech East Pollinator: Re-Visting the Vision of the Connected Farm being held on 15 October 2019, 4:00 – 7:00pm, at Eagle Labs Cambridge, CB4 3AZ.
See more about the event here.