The British Hands Free Hectare project has successfully harvested their second crop, winter wheat, using their autonomous combine harvester. The first crop, spring barley, was harvested in September 2017.
The project, run by Harper Adams University, based in Shropshire, England and Precision Decisions in York, England, that set out in October 2016 to be the first in the world to plant, tend and harvest a crop remotely, using automated machines. It returned in November 2017 after receiving funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) to grow a crop of winter wheat, with the aim to improve the machinery’s accuracy and so improve field coverage, ultimately leading to a more competitive yield.
Drilling misses fell from 2.82% in the first year of the project to 0.35% this year, helping the team achieve a respectable overall yield of 6.5 tonnes, despite a late drilling and busy schedules. Mechatronics Engineer for Precision Decisions Martin Abell said: “We’re pleased with our harvest, but our key achievement this year was completing a rolling team. Last year, we tried an unload on the move, but we weren’t able to get our tractor close enough to the combine because of the accuracy issues. We still had a little involvement with the tractor through the remote control, just to ensure it got onto the right line, but once it was there, it drove itself to within a 5cm accuracy. Our combine ran autonomously throughout the cutting, and yet again it completed the headland turns without a problem.”
“During the past two years we’ve come across a number of technological challenges that we simply haven’t had the time to overcome. This second year is a great opportunity to address them. For the next year we’re putting a cover crop into the hectare, this will protect the land as we use it as a test space while we continue to improve our technology, which we haven’t been able to do while growing cereal crops in the field,” concludes Abell.