The demonstration saw robots assist soft fruit farmers in a variety of tasks, including picking and packing fruit and treating crops to deter pests
Today, BT has announced the successful deployment of a robotics platform and management system to support the agricultural project Robot Highways, enabling a fleet of robots to help automate the farming process.
Robot Highways is a project led by agricultural robot specialist Saga Robotics, aiming to explore the use of robots and automation to increase the efficiency of soft fruit agriculture. The plan is for various robots to perform several “essential, energy intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases”, all while being powered by renewable energy.
In turn, the additional data generated by these robots can allow for more accurate forecasting, better business insights, and reduced agricultural waste for the farms.
Additional partners for the project the University of Lincoln, Berry Gardens Growers Ltd, Clock House Farm, University of Reading, and the Manufacturing Technology Centre, alongside BT. It is funded by Innovate UK, the non-departmental public body that provides funding to stimulate and support business-led innovation.
Making this smart farming vision a reality will be no small feat. High-quality connectivity infrastructure will be paramount to enabling the required IoT environment and this is where BT comes in. The operator has developed and tested the edge and cloud architecture that will be used to support this IoT infrastructure, though details of the specific technology provided was not announced.
“We’re delighted to be part of the Robot Highways project to demonstrate how BT can help the agricultural sector to automate by integrating robotics and other solutions on a single platform. As a leader in network-based platforms and edge-infrastructure we are ideally placed to support advanced robotic farming operations,” said John Davies, Chief Researcher at BT.
Supporting agriculture has become an increasingly important focus for BT in recent years. For example, BT has been providing connectivity and support for Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), a Scottish agriculture firm specialising in TCEA (Total Controlled Environment Agriculture). IGS has built a vertical farm, with crops stacked on top of one another, with each crop’s specific microclimate managed digitally through mobile devices.
BT is not alone in its agricultural interest. Italian operator TIM, for example, last year partnered with a vineyard in Piedmont Langhe to provide 5G coverage and help enable automation and drone deployment.
The vendors also want their share of this agricultural opportunity. Particularly with the advent of private networks, telecoms vendors potentially offering digital services and solutions directly to agricultural players; Huawei, for example, announced last year that they were deploying an AI solution to a Chinese pig farm, capable of monitoring the condition of each individual animal.
As the farming industry continues to digitalise, the vital nature of high quality connectivity will likewise increase, creating a wealth of opportunities for the telcos that can sew their seeds first.
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