Humans have been cultivating plants for some 10,000 years and, for much of that time, we've used beasts of burden to help tend the fields. Just last century, humans turned from animal strength to machine power, leading to huge leaps in agricultural efficiency and scale. Over the past few years, farms have deployed emerging technologies like drones and autonomous driving systems to make the farmers' job even less strenuous — but human hands were still needed throughout the process.
Now, researchers at Harper Adams University and agricultural company Precision Decisions have removed humans from the farm entirely in a project called Hands Free Hectare. From planting to tending and harvesting, no human stepped foot on the acre and a half barley farm in rural England. It was all done by robot farmers.
"There's been a focus in recent years on making farming more precise, but the larger machines that we're using are not compatible with this method of working," Jonathan Gill, one of the researchers involved in the project, said in a statement. "They're also so heavy that they're damaging farmers' soils. If combines in the future were similar to the size of the combine we used in this project, which was a little 'Sampo combine' with a header unit of only two meters, it would allow more precise yield maps to be created. They would also be much lighter machines."