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    Revolutionary new drone course takes flight at Harper Adams University

    Posted 21 March 2023

    “Harper Adams is the first place to deliver this course in the country – and they are right at the cutting edge of these developments.” 

    A drone sprays winter wheat between two turbines

    A revolutionary new course - currently the only one in the UK which equips its participants with practical skills for agricultural drone spraying operations - has taken flight at Harper Adams University. 

    The course is a collaboration between the University and AutoSpray Systems, which holds the UK’s first Operational Authorisation for commercial agricultural spraying with drones over 25KG through the Civil Aviation Authority.  

    The company and the University have worked closely together on a range of precision agriculture projects, including the ground-breaking Hands Free Farm and its predecessor, the Hands Free Hectare. As part of their wider work on precision and autonomous farming, experts at the University also worked to demonstrate the need for changes in regulations covering both crop robotics and the use of spray drones

    Government policy itself changed following the release of the Price Waterhouse Coopers Skies Without Limits report – with AutoSpray Systems securing its licence from the CAA in December 2022 – the first commercial licence of its kind in the country.

    Robert Pearson, CEO of AutoSpray Systems, said: “According to the forecasts by Price Waterhouse Coopers, by the turn of the decade the UK could have 900,000 drones in operation – contributing 45 billion to the UK economy and creating 650,000 jobs. 

    “However, for operations such as the use of drones in agriculture, there will be a need to equip hundreds of people with the skills they require – which is why courses like this will be so important, and why we wanted to work with the UK’s leading specialist university to deliver this course. 

    “Harper Adams is the first place to deliver this course in the country – and they are right at the cutting edge of these developments.” 

    The course has already gained the interest of both the industry and the BBC – with Robert and Harper Adams Shows and Events lead Sarah Swinnerton speaking to BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today about the plans for the course at this year’s LAMMA show. 

    Sarah said: “Bringing this course to Harper Adams is great news – not only for the University, but also for the wider agricultural sector.  

    “We’ve had a close working relationship with Rob for some time and he’s appeared with Harper Adams at a range of events, showing how drones and autonomous agricultural technology can complement one another. 

    “We’ve also been able to demonstrate some of the work we’ve been doing together on the Hands Free Farm and, before that, the Hands Free Hectare.” 

    Fittingly, the new short course will itself use the original hectare where the Hands Free research began – with the first cohort beginning their studies this week as well as a ‘Train the Trainers’ event in February both using the Hectare for the flying and spraying operations parts of the course. 

    Business Development Officer at Harper Adams University, Ian Pryce, said: “This course will help equip the drone operators of the future with the knowledge and skills they need – and the possibilities it can unlock, for both drone operators and for farmers, have the potential to be truly revolutionary. 

    “The first in a series of five-day courses are now available to book on our website - and we expect demand to be brisk.” 

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