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    Engineering knowledge exchange programme starts with students' Mississippi visit

    Posted 5 June

    The Harper Engineering students at the Mississippi State University (MSU) campus in Starkville

    An international collaboration to boost knowledge exchange around autonomous engineering has seen a group of Harper Adams students visiting the United States.

    The six final year Masters Engineering students were the first to make what is set to be a series of visits in the next few years, with a focus on autonomous agriculture, to Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville.

     The idea for the exchange was sparked at first by a visit to Mississippi in Autumn 2023 by Harper Adams Senior Engagement Fellow, and Principal Investigator of the Hands Free Farm, Kit Franklin.

    He said: “Having visited MSU to share some of my experiences of agriculture autonomy projects at the launch of the AAI last autumn, I saw many possible synergies with Harper Adams Engineering and MSU.

    “After some initial conversations about academic interaction during that visit, it was great to have this initial exchange arranged so quickly.”

    The visit was supported by funding from the Douglas Bomford Trust of £4,398 and with funding from the Engineering Department of £3,000.

    Six students from Harper made the journey – they were current Chairman of the Engineering Society, Rhodri Williams, an MEng Agricultural Engineering student, from Whitland, West Wales and coursemates Harry Rigby, from Cheshire and Charlie Jackson, from Derby; MEng Mechanical Engineering students Dominic Neal, from Jersey, and Kelly Billington, from Luton; and MEng Automotive (Off-Highway) Engineering student Luke Waldram, from Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

    Kelly said: “The ability to network with a diverse range of academics from different specialisms was an invaluable experience.

    “Learning about the challenges faced by American farmers and the similarities to our own agricultural challenges was eye-opening. It really solidified the drive for viable autonomous agricultural solutions worldwide, as well as the importance of being a part of its progression and advancement for the future of farming."

    And Rhodri added: “Our trip was very related to our studies at Harper Adams - where we engaged with taught modules at MSU, such as the Autonomous Tractor Project, which we worked on whilst there.

    “This module was led by Dr Hussein Gharakhani, an assistant professor at MSU who has a significant interest precision agriculture and autonomous farming.

    “We practised and learnt new skills including CAD, Force Moments, Fabrication and System Integration with new software such as Ubuntu - all skills that relate directly back to our studies and courses here at Harper Adams University.”

    Madison Dixon, associate director of MSU’s Agricultural Autonomy Institute, added: “We want to emulate and hopefully improve and expand upon the Hands Free Hectare concept at Harper Adams University here at the MSU Agricultural Autonomy Institute on our own Autonomous Acres Proving Ground at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station’s R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center.”

    The work will continue through online correspondence, and a group of MSU students are set to be welcomed to Harper Adams later this month. It is hoped that the ongoing exchange will become a long-term venture, focussed on autonomous agriculture.

    Interim Head of Engineering at Harper Adams, Dr Ian Moorcroft, said: “‘’We wish to thank MSU for giving our students such a rewarding visit. Throughout the trip, our students worked on a range of interesting projects gaining new knowledge and skills as well as broadening their cultural experiences. On June 21, we will be welcoming a group of six MSU students for a two week visit to Harper.

    "One of their first experiences will be Future Fest, which will be a fantastic way for them to settle in before they, too, get involved with some of our projects and visits which has all been planned by our Masters students.’’

    Find out more about what our students thought about their visit in this blog.

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