Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with Hands Free Farm, are 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: the ability to work in the dark, increasing overall working hours; greater precision and the elimination of human error; and decreasing the labour requirement for farming whilst improving crop yields and quality.
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 agritech, hindering the progress of the entire agrifood sector.
“It’s the sort of thing that blocks the route to market,” says Kit Franklin, senior lecturer in agricultural engineering at Harper Adams University and co-founder of the world’s first fully-autonomous Hands Free Farm. “There’s still an awful lot of questions around safety, reliability, legality, legislation and insurance, which is all still in its infancy.”
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.(NFU)
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 Franklin.
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.
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.
From idea to reality
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 interest and submit a solution, visit the Agri-EPI Centre website.