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Robotic tractor demonstration (USER-PA Project)

Posted 9 February 2016

Like most roboticists, I am driven by my childhood interest in sci-fi which has never gone away!"

Harper Adams University’s autonomous tractor, Pomona, has been demonstrated at the conclusion meeting of an international €1 million project into precision farming.

The tractor was developed as part of the project, entitled USability of Environmentally sound and Reliable techniques in Precision Agriculture (USER-PA), which started in 2013 and brought together scientists from Israel, Germany, Turkey, Switzerland, Greece, United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark. 

The project combined expertise from universities, research institutions and industry in the fields of plant physiology, sensor technology, robotics and automation as well as decision support systems.

The aim was to create sensors to be placed on an autonomous orchard tractor, to gather data, analyse and present information to the farmer prior to irrigation and harvesting during the growth season.

Sam Wane, senior lecturer in engineering, said: “Harper Adams was solely responsible for creating a robotic tractor which would be able to carry the sensors the other sub-projects were creating. It wasn’t purely a vehicle to move their sensors; it also needed to provide an interface with the electronics, power and data of them.

“I found this an interesting challenge as the project focussed on the bigger picture of robots in farming-the integration with the sensors and their data which the agronomists would need. 

“It was a really exciting project which I wanted to be involved in when I joined the University two and a half years ago. The robotic tractor was created from modifying an existing tractor to enable it to be controlled purely by computer, we even removed the seat and steering wheel as they weren’t needed anymore. The whole process was thrilling.

“There are no other robotic tractors in the country, which meant when we were trying to find health and safety regulations, there were none. Therefore, we’ve been leading the way which has taken a lot of research, especially on the part of Professor Simon Blackmore. 

“The most exciting part of the project for me is seeing my code control the tractor. Originally, I was testing it on a small robot, then we plugged it into the tractor and it just came to life! It felt like watching Robo Cop, where pressing a button makes something huge and inanimate come alive and you’re just thinking ‘wow’. It’s great to see everything come together.

“Like most roboticists, I am driven by my childhood interest in sci-fi which has never gone away!

“The whole project has been a real team effort. There is still work to do, even though the project has officially ended. It’s led to real friendships, and I hope that we continue working together.” 

Watch the video above to see Pomona the robotic tractor in action.


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