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Artificial intelligence (AI) systems known as ‘robo farmers’ could soon grow crops and tend livestock around Britain while their human controllers need never set foot in a field again, researchers say.
Engineering staff at Harper Adams University in Shropshire are adapting farm machinery to create small autonomous tractors and harvesters to grow a hectare of crops. They will be monitored by drones and special ground-roaming vehicles and will be harvested next August.
“There’s no technological barrier to automated field agriculture. This project gives us the opportunity to prove this and change current public perception,”researcher Kit Franklin told the Times.
While analysts say automation technology in farming could boost farmers’ profits by an average of 20 percent, many are worried it could cost farmers their jobs.
“It’s not about putting people out of their jobs; instead changing the job they do,” Franklin maintains.
“The tractor driver won’t be physically in the tractor driving up and down a field. Instead, they will be a fleet manager and agricultural analyst, looking after a number of farming robots and meticulously monitoring the development of their crops.”
The capabilities of robot technology continue to improve while the costs fall, making the idea of a fully-automated farm in the near future truly feasible.
Technology for driverless tractors is already being developed. Case IH sells machines that use “Ordnance Survey positioning technology,” which means they can follow a programmed course over a limitless distance.