The project «Hands Free Hectare» appeared in 2016. A group of enthusiasts based at the University of Shropshire began developing a technique that will completely grow spring wheat without the physical presence of a person on the field. In addition, the use of only lightweight equipment was an important condition. Heavy tractors compact the soil, which negatively affects the yield and makes additional processing necessary.
For inspection, it was supposed to use UAVs and cameras installed on the most land-processing equipment. For carrying out all types of tillage operations - ordinary tractors and combines, on which external control mechanisms are installed.
The first year was a failure (more details here) and the project almost closed. The seeding lines were in fact «seeding curves», and the impossibility of the usual visual inspection of the field greatly complicated the task. In addition, the tractor maintenance process was more complicated than expected and took a very long time.
AHDB became the second sponsor (more details here) and this gave a new life to the project.
With a planned harvest of spring barley of 5 tons, 4.5 tons were obtained. Developers consider it especially important that they used usual agricultural machinery for work, on which they installed control modules of their own production. That is, maintenance of the equipment itself by the future owner will not cause problems. In addition, the management technologies are based on open source software, which eliminates the need for extra payments to license holders and allows any interested programmer to connect to the improvement of this project.
The initial conditions are met (people did not take part in the cultivation of the field), and the project receives new tasks: it is planned to grow spring barley, as well as winter wheat and barley on 35 hectares of land. The task is becoming more complicated, since now robots will have to work on real fields - with a non-rectangular shape, on slopes, with the need to move equipment from one field to another along ordinary public roads.
P.S. From 4.5 tons of barley it is planned to make beer of the «Hands Free Hectare» trademark.