Robotics, AI and Automation Archives - Agri-EPI Centre

Robotics, AI and Automation

With an increasing role in the modern management of land and livestock, at Agri-EPI we are at the fore-front of robotics, AI and automation in farming. Our role to explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture. Collaborating with a broad range of teams and individuals from science, farming and the retail and processing sector for the improvement of our land and farming methods.

Agri-EPI and DIT host International Export Advice Centre at LAMMA

Last week Agri-EPI shared a stand at LAMMA with the Department of International Trade (DIT).

LAMMA is the UK’s leading farm machinery, equipment and agricultural services show, attracting over 40,000 visitors to its venue at NEC Birmingham and celebrating its 40th year this year.

Agri-EPI Centre, in collaboration with DIT, hosted the International Export Advice Centre, where officers from Latin America, Africa, and the Eastern European and Central Asian Network, were present on the stand for business-to-business meetings about UK export. Dr Elizabeth Warham, Head of Agri-tech for DIT, was in demand as businesses lined up to speak with her, and Agri-EPI supported on talks with information on their innovation projects and how agri-tech can have an impact on-farm.

Additionally, delegates including the State Minister for Agriculture of Uganda along with a Ugandan delegation, were welcomed to Agri-EPI’s Midlands Agri-tech Innovation Hub for a tour of the facilities and networking with other companies to find out about some of the UK’s most cutting-edge Innovate UK funded projects. Presentations were given by Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development at Agri-EPI Centre, Rebecca Geraghty, CCO of Agrimetrics, and Kit Franklin, Senior Agricultural Engineer and Principle Investigator for Hands Free Farm, who took delegates to see the workshop they use to develop and work on the autonomous tractors for their world-renowned project.

Farm visit to Godminster Farm

Farming Innovation Pathways: LightWeeding

The LightWeeder is a world-first eye-safe, herbicide-free, carbon neutral, commercially viable weeding system delivered by lightweight autonomous field robots via UK agri-robotics company and Agri-EPI Centre member, Earth Rover.

The LightWeeding technology uses semiconductor LEDs to solve key technical, safety and commercialisation challenges faced by laser-based weeding systems.

The LightWeeder is part of CLAWS (Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding and Scouting), Earth Rover’s agri robot that can kill weeds using a unique concentrated light method, and can also scout fields to obtain a complete data map of all crops after planting, showing the crops exact location, size, and any early signs of disease.

The main features of CLAWS are:

  • Weeding – chemical free and inherently safer than laser weeding. No till and no crop damage and can be used in any conditions without compacting the soil.
  • Scouting – In depth analysis of crops to allow better harvest predictions and increased yields

The complete system is ultra-lightweight (only 300kg) meaning it requires low amounts of energy to run, and is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than many of its competitors. It runs on batteries and (eventually) solar panels therefore uses no fossil fuels and helps farmers meet their net zero targets.

With increasing types of chemical-resistant weeds, a significant downturn in availability of hand labour plus a shift in society towards more organic options, now more than ever there is a need to change the way we farm. A recent report by Rothamsted Research shows weeds “pose an unprecedented threat to our food security” and highlights the need to diversify weed control as an urgent priority.

As explained by John Taylor, Farm Director at Pollybell Organic Farm,

“the key element here is that the LightWeeder not only makes chemical free farming more effective but it also solves the huge issue farmers are facing today in terms of the huge loss in labour force. Being able to weed fields autonomously means that food production doesn’t just grind to a halt.”

Lightweeding has several advantages over mechanical systems: it is energy-efficient and no-till, it does not damage drip irrigation or crops, it is not dependent on soil conditions, and it does not enable weeds to develop resistance. However, effective lightweeding must be low-cost, fast, and offer safe autonomous operation in modern farm environments – criteria that does not exist in-the market at this time.

Industry collaborators discuss developing autonomous ag solutions for safety and security

The development and utilisation of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence to grow and harvest food is gathering traction across the agriculture sector. Automation has become a critical element in sustainable food production, and robots and AI are now advanced enough to be used for non-standardised tasks such as weeding, crop sensing, and fruit picking. Many jobs are able to be improved, if not replaced, by robots.

Farming is complex and many stakeholders across the agriculture sector are involved in running the business, from farm managers and agronomists to supply chain representatives, insurers and policy makers. When developing any agricultural technology, innovators must think holistically about how the tech will be used on-farm, who will be involved in its use, and who it might impact more broadly.

Agri-EPI Centre’s 2021 Agricultural Technology Hackathon sought to identify solutions to enhance the safety and security of autonomous farm machines. Agri-EPI ran the initiative with Innovate UK-funded Hands Free Farm, a testbed for autonomous farm machinery and drones. The teams which took part came from a range of disciplines, including robotics, AI & machine learning, drones and computer vision. They came together to address the following challenges:
• Detecting people entering and exiting operational areas
• Communicating about the operation of unmanned vehicles
• Providing safety and other information and advice
• Managing human-machine interaction

This industry paper has been released in collaboration with stakeholders from across the agri-tech sector to offer recommendations around the future development of autonomous agricultural solutions. It raises a series of considerations around agriculture’s readiness for large scale adoption of autonomous vehicles and offers recommendations around maximising safety, improving connectivity, and combating future technology threats.

 

Read the full report here:

Hackathon whitepaper

 

Farm Automation Innovation Helping to Mitigate Labour Shortage

In the wake of unprecedented geopolitical and pandemic-related changes spanning the last few years, the UK’s agri-food labour shortage has been exacerbated. In the most recent government update released at the start of the year, it was announced that the Seasonal Worker visa scheme will now been extended to the end of 2024. This update includes a forthcoming series of recommendations around an Automation Review, to reduce reliance on labour.

With labour shortages significantly affecting farms and supply chains, the need for innovation in the automation space has become an imperative. Our recent prototype lettuce harvester project in collaboration with PDM, G’s, the University of Bristol, GRIMME and IDS is a great example of the kind of innovation that could assist in mitigating the fallout from these labour shortages. Early predictions for the harvester suggest a possible 50% reduction in labour needs.

Agri-tech and automation innovations continue; in an effort to alleviate manual labour requirements and to keep farms operating effectively, we are working on a number of exciting automation projects with our members that we will be sharing this year. We look forward to future industry and government collaborations continuing to invest in developing these innovations

Agri-EPI Centre and CIEL delighted to host Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI today.

We took the opportunity to provide insight into work of the Agritech Centres in their role of translation of science into best practice and related agri-food sector benefits

Ottoline visited the Agri-EPI Northern Hub and CIEL-supported LARIF building and met Dr Mark Young of CIEL and Dave Ross of Agri-EPI, who provided examples of work the Agritech Centres are doing to benefit sustainability and commercial impact, leveraging our networks including key academic partners.

We are grateful to the University of Edinburgh for the overall co-ordination of the visit. Pictured are (left to right):

Prof. David Argyll, William Dick Chair of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Professor Moira Whyte, Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh
Dave Ross, CEO, Agri-EPI Centre
Prof. Jonathan Seckl, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh
Helen Dundas, Data Driven Innovation Sector Lead in Agritech, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director, The Roslin Institute
Dr. Thomas Farrugia, CEO, Beta Bugs Ltd
Dr. Mark Young, Head of Innovation, CIEL