Project aims for 5G connected agri-robots

High-speed 5G agri-robots are being rolled out in Dorset as part of a project that aims to improve connectivity, farming efficiency and rural custodianship.

Scanning robot Tom (Image: SRC)

To this end, agri-tech start-up Small Robot Company (SRC) has entered into partnership in the 5G RuralDorset project, which is developing and proving a blueprint for rural-optimised 5G connectivity with a 5G-ready agri-robot for arable farms.

The £7m project is being part-funded (£4.5m) by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport as part of its 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme and partners include Wessex Internet, Telint and Dorset Council.

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"This 5G blueprint could be a catalyst for rural economies - with our robots demonstrating the potential for 5G to transform agricultural productivity. Connectivity is not a luxury. It’s a utility. And vital to economic performance,” said Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO and co-founder, Small Robot Company. “One of the biggest obstacles facing UK farmers in adopting new technologies is poor connectivity around the farm. This 5G blueprint will pave the way for growth in the rural economy - and alongside it greatly-improved quality of life.”

According to the team, rural-optimised 5G connectivity could potentially reduce the cost of operating robots, which is already less than conventional farm machinery.

In use, 5G robotics will enable real time capabilities such quickly identifying and addressing pests like slugs; and enabling farmers to act faster to exploit dry weather windows. It will also provide farmers with live operational information such as soil moisture and crop emergence.

The trials will be the first to demonstrate wide-scale autonomy of agri-robots in farming operations, including the development of the UK’s first ‘5G-ready’ agri-robot; development of the first scalable, costed, ‘as a service’ agri-robot product; development of SRC’s first ‘ready-for-market’, ‘fit-for-purpose’ agri-robot; and development of SRC’s on-farm 5G-enabled robot ‘kennel’. A 5G-connected Robot Handler App is likely to enable a remote operator to see live data or take live control of the robot.

On-farm 5G-enabled robot ‘kennels’ will aim to process data from robots “on the fly,” exploiting the benefits of using higher frequency 5G spectrum and infrastructure so farmers can take more timely corrective action to maximise yields and minimise pesticide use.

“Connectivity across farms remains a massive issue. Exciting technological developments in agriculture have the potential to transform farming but are held back by poor connectivity and mobile coverage,” said Hector Gibson Fleming, Managing Director of Wessex Internet. “We hope the 5G networks we’re building across a number of Dorset farms, and the exciting 5G applications we’re trialling, such as Small Robot Company’s agri-robots, will be a shining example of what the future can look like.”