6 December 2022
The work of the Hands Free Farm team has been profiled by the renowned Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.
The full article – which can be read here – follows the six-year mission of the team, the first of their kind anywhere in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without operators in the driving seat or agronomists on the ground.
Following a series of successes on their initial Hands Free Hectare site, which built the team’s name and profile in both media and industry, in May 2019 the team secured fresh funding from Innovate UK.
Working with partners Farmscan AG UK, the Agri-EPI Centre and Precision Decisions, they moved to the 35-hectare Hands Free Farm site, scaling up their work – and the challenges their machines faced.
It was shortly after this that the team began to work with Bloomberg, with reporter Simon Akam noting: “I followed the Hands Free team as they went from first mover to underdog upstart, battling recalcitrant robotics, a pandemic, supply chain dysfunction and conventional obstacles such as British weather.”
In 2017, Kit Franklin (@AgEngResearch) and his colleagues became the first farmers in the world to successfully cultivate one hectare - 100m x 100m - from planting to harvest without a human setting foot on the land.https://t.co/MA2ohv8XmQ— Simon Akam (@simonakam) November 30, 2022
The piece examines the impact the Farm has had over its six years of operation, and speaks to former Harper Adams Professor Simon Blackmore, a leading global expert on agricultural robotics.
It notes how Professor Blackmore was a key inspiration for Hands Free Farm Principal Investigator and Senior Engagement Fellow, Kit Franklin, with his advocation of smaller, smarter machines: “With human operators, the incentive was to build steadily larger machines so one driver could do more work, but those behemoths compacted the soil, which then needed to be broken up mechanically.
“A fleet of little robots, in his view, would allow farmers to reduce soil compaction, chemical use and labour requirements generally.”
Bloomberg also examines the impact of the Hands Free Farm team’s pioneering research on the industry more widely.
The changing face of agriculture over the span of the project suggests a global market prediction for the value of autonomous equipment of $155 billion by 2027 – more than two and a half times what the figure was when Bloomberg’s reporter first visited the Farm.
Across a series of visits, the piece builds a sense of the Hands Free Farm team, the challenges they faced building systems to carry out tasks which had never been done autonomously before, and how they solved them.
I found the project fascinating and I hope it's an enjoyable read. Thanks to the @FreeHectare team for making me so welcome and answering all my naïf's questions, and to @jeremy_keehn @BW for his customary finesse and professionalism with the edit.— Simon Akam (@simonakam) November 30, 2022
Read more about the Hands Free Farm team’s work here: