Just after sunset on September 6, 2017, celebrations erupted on a farm in the quiet county of Shropshire, England. After a year of hard labor and careful planning, researchers achieved the previously impossible: the world's first fully automated harvest—from barren land to flourishing crops—had been successfully completed. The "Hands Free Hectare" used nothing but robots, and was yet another step forward in revolutionizing how we feed the world.
After receiving £200,000 in government funding in October 2016, the team from Harper Adams University set to work modifying a tractor and twenty-five year old combine with cameras, lasers, and gps systems. Drones aided in monitoring the field, while a robot "scout" scooped up soil samples for inspection.
Previous studies on driverless tractors have used large machines to get the job done. But the Harper Adams team used another tactic: Their small tractor and combine were able to make more precise movements, limit damage to soil for future harvests, and increase efficiency.