Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with Hands Free Farm, is running a Hackathon event challenging technological innovators to “hack” a solution to the increasing challenges and complexities of the safety of autonomous agricultural vehicles.
With new and emerging technologies driving innovations in various sectors worldwide, agriculture in particular stands to benefit from technology that can alleviate issues such as labour shortages whilst also improving the productivity and efficiency of farming.
Driving forward hands-free farming
Autonomous vehicles offer arable farmers a wide range of benefits: foremost is to enable the better utilisation of farm staff, increase the precision of farming to improve efficacy and possibly reducing the required scale of fam machinery, all of which will combine to improve farm economics. The technologies used may also make the sector a more attractive career proposition for future generations particularly in STEM.
However, to ensure the implementation of agri-tech can keep pace with the rate of innovation, the safety, security and reliability of new technologies must be guaranteed.
The lack of formal safety regulations, codes of practice and other legislation pose a potential barrier to the widespread use of cutting-edge agri-tech, hindering the progress of the entire agri-food sector.
The Hands-Free farm is partnered with Precision Decisions, part of the Map of Ag group, to support the route mapping element of the machine operations on the farm. Clive Blacker, Head of Arable Produce at Map of Ag explains: “Safety is paramount to any solution and cannot be taken for granted.”
“The diverse nature of agriculture and robotics operating in off road and on road environments poses many challenges, not just dealing with the structure of the rules of the road but the unconventional unstructured field work and environment causes many unpredictable challenges to the saftey of robotics. The aim of our challenge is to bring great ideas from any background to agriculture that could support robotic saftey in agriculture with the opportunity to test the ideas in a real robotic farm.”
How safety & security concerns hinder agritech adoption
Despite the sophisticated technologies now available, an NFU Mutual survey found that as many as 80% of farmers haven’t even considered utilising unmanned vehicles and autonomous tractors.
Amongst other factors, from personal preference to initial investment, an increasingly pressing issue for the agriculture industry is farm safety. For autonomous agricultural vehicles to become universally used on-farm, there are numerous safety and security concerns to be addressed.
Safety concerns around autonomous vehicles – and the core focus of this year’s Agri-EPI Centre Hackathon – span a range of technological hazards such as collision avoidance, human supervision and detecting both humans and animals traversing operational fields.
High-tech, high-value equipment and machinery must also be secure against the threat of theft and tampering, while the GPS systems and other software is at risk of cyber attack and data breaches.
“It’s about making autonomous machines a really safe, secure system that farmers feel comfortable with, the public can feel comfortable with and the legislators and insurers can feel comfortable with,” explains Kit Franklin of Hands Free Farm.
The Agri-Tech Hackathon 2021
The Hands Free Farm and Agri-EPI Centre’s 2021 Hackathon is a combined effort to tackle safety and security concerns around autonomous agricultural vehicles.
The Hackathon invites developers from a range of disciplines, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, drones, computer vision and more to “hack” a safety solution for unmanned machinery.
The Hackathon aims to kick-start innovation in autonomous vehicle safety, encouraging small teams to come up with high-tech solutions that can make our farms safer and support the widespread implementation of agritech, safely.
The winning Hackathon teams will be offered a unique opportunity to implement their technology on the Hands Free Farm, connecting them with expertise and experience to further develop their solution and ultimately take it to market by drawing on the experience of the Hands Free team.
From idea to reality
This activity will be further supported by the winner’s ability to utilise the testing, research and development facilities at Agri-EPI Centre’s many Agri-Tech Hubs situated across the UK, and also a dedicated investment session with intellectual property law firm GJE, enabling new tech developers to protect their designs, branding and other assets.
Of his own route to co-founding the Hands Free Farm, Franklin said: “I wanted to be an engineer who solved farmers’ problems. I can’t change farming by developing a new crop, because I’m not a biologist. But I can change farming by developing the machinery.”
“Getting to work with the winning concept for a further 12 months is really exciting – thinking about what we might get out of that, and also what we might be able to disseminate from that experience to the wider world, sparking new ideas and conversations.”
To find out more about the Hackathon, register your team and enter, visit: https://agri-epicentre.com/hackathon-2021/