Robot farmers have successfully planted and harvested barley by themselves

Humans have been cultivating plants for some 10,000 years and, for much of that time, we’ve used beasts of burden to help tend the fields. Just last century, humans turned from animal strength to machine power, leading to huge leaps in agricultural efficiency and scale. Over the past few years, farms have deployed emerging technologies like drones and autonomous driving systems to make the farmers’ job even less strenuous — but human hands were still needed throughout the process.

Now, researchers at Harper Adams University and agricultural company Precision Decisions have removed humans from the farm entirely in a project called Hands Free Hectare. From planting to tending and harvesting, no human stepped foot on the acre and a half barley farm in rural England. It was all done by robot farmers.

“There’s been a focus in recent years on making farming more precise, but the larger machines that we’re using are not compatible with this method of working,” Jonathan Gill, one of the researchers involved in the project, said in a statement. “They’re also so heavy that they’re damaging farmers’ soils. If combines in the future were similar to the size of the combine we used in this project, which was a little ‘Sampo combine’ with a header unit of only two meters, it would allow more precise yield maps to be created. They would also be much lighter machines.”

Among the tasks assigned to the autonomous vehicles and drones were drilling channels to precise depths for barley seeds to be planted; applying specific amounts of fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers; and, finally, harvesting the crops once they were ready.

“This project aimed to prove that there’s no technological reason why a field can’t be farmed without humans working the land directly now and we’ve done that,” said Martin Abell, from Precision Decisions. “We set out to identify the opportunities for farming and to prove that it’s possible to autonomously farm the land, and that’s been the great success of the project.”

Although the autonomous work systems were freshly developed for these tasks, the machine used to harvest the barley was 25 years old and still performed better than the tractor used for planting, according to the researchers.

The team plans to repeat the experiment again with a winter crop. But first, they will brew a batch of beer with the spring harvest. Cheers to that!

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Emerging Tech

Self-correcting quadcopter can keep itself aloft even if one rotor fails

Most quadcopters won't fly unless all four rotors are functioning. But what happens if one gets damaged during flight? Researchers from the Netherlands think they've come up with a solution.
Emerging Tech

Leafy greens are grown by machines at new, automated Silicon Valley farm

Farming hasn't changed too much for hundreds of years. Now a new startup called Iron Ox has opened its first automated hydroponics farm, producing a variety of leafy greens tended by machines.
Emerging Tech

Boston Dynamics is trying to make fetch happen with its new working robot dog

Boston Dynamics wants to see Spot in the workplace, but not as part of take-your-dog-to-work days. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the technology company believes its extraordinary robo-dog is now ready to start work.
Emerging Tech

With cameras that know dogs from Dodges, Honda is making intersections safer

Honda and the city of Marysville, Ohio are working on creating a smart intersection. The goal would not only help better direct the flow of traffic, it could also help save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists.
Emerging Tech

Regular paints and plastics will soon be able to ‘heal’ like skin

Imagine if paints, plastics, or other coatings could heal up like human skin in the event that they suffered damage. Thanks to researchers at Clemson University, such technology is almost here.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how Microsoft’s Hololens is helping NASA build the new Orion spacecraft

Lockheed Martin is turning to Microsoft’s mixed reality Hololens smartglasses to help build NASA's Orion spacecraft, which could one day help rocket astronauts as far afield as Mars.
Emerging Tech

Shrimp eyes inspire new camera focused on helping self-driving cars see better

By mimicking the vision of mantis shrimp, researchers were able to make significant improvements on today’s commercial cameras. They hope their technology can help mitigate accidents by letting self-driving vehicles see more clearly.
Emerging Tech

This intelligent parachute system can bail out clumsy drone pilots

Parachutes can save drones when they unexpectedly fall from the sky. Among a number of such systems, Austrian firm Drone Rescue is this week showing off its latest design that automatically deploys when it senses trouble.
Cars

‘Bloodhound’ rocket car needs a speedy cash injection to survive

The rocket-powered Bloodhound car has driven into difficulties, with the company behind the project needing a multi-million-dollar cash injection to save its dream of attempting a 1,000 mph land speed record.
Emerging Tech

Tokyo robotic warehouse needs almost no human workers

Uniqlo has unveiled its first robot-powered warehouse that requires 90 percent fewer human workers to operate. The Japanese clothing giant plans to invest close to $1 billion dollars to convert all of its warehouses worldwide.
Emerging Tech

Curious how A.I. 'brains' work? Here's a super-simple breakdown of deep learning

What is deep learning? A branch of machine learning, this field deals with the creation of neural networks that are modeled after the brain and adept at dealing with large amounts of human-oriented data, like writing and voice commands.
Emerging Tech

Drop everything and watch Boston Dynamics’ robo-dog dance to ‘Uptown Funk’

After a few years of Earthbound training, Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robot dog is ready to take on Mars. Bruno Mars, to be precise. Check out Skynet's future pet as you've never seen it before.