Automation could require a fresh look at agriculture

Automating common crop cultivation and harvesting tasks will mean "re-evaluating the whole approach to agriculture", according to Harper Adams University College head of engineering Professor Simon Blackmore.

Speaking at last month's European Robotics Forum in Odense, Denmark, he said: "At the moment, crops are drilled in straight rows to suit machines, but what if they were drilled to follow the contours of the land or to take account of the micro-level environmental conditions within a portion of a field?"

The potential boost to production if harvests were staggered to suit the crop rather than mechanisation would be "immense", Blackmore suggested.

"We're talking about micro tillage, mechanical weeding and planting using small, smart, autonomous, modular machines," he added.

Blackmore, who also runs his own commercial robot development company UniBots, added that his trials of a prototype Crop Scout had already resulted in a 98 per cent reduction in spraying volume.

The robotics forum also featured demonstrations of field robots developed by the universities of Copenhagen and Southern Denmark, Wageningen UR in the Netherlands and Kaiserslautern Technical University in Germany.

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