A robotic farmer that drives itself around steep grasslands identifying and destroying weeds is being trialled in the Peak District.
The prototype has the potential to reduce reliance on herbicides, according to its makers at Sheffield-based agricultural robotics project, IBEX, and it is capable of reaching remote farmland that is too dangerous to reach by either tractor or quad bike.
Charles Fox, project manager at Hunshelf Hall Farm, Wortley near Sheffield, said: “IBEX is the first agricultural robot designed to tackle extreme agricultural environments such as Yorkshire hill farms.
“Taking the concept beyond university labs and overcoming extreme terrain mobility limitations, we designed and built IBEX to military standards, to go where other vehicles can’t operate and to tackle a real world problem affecting many farmers around the UK.”
Trials of the robot are due to be complete later this year.
It has been designed to incorporate a robotic arm for precision spraying and it is also capable of pulling along other agricultural implements to perform different farm tasks.
Pushed to its limits, IBEX can operate on 45 degree slopes and it is video linked so the operator can intervene if required.
Mr Fox, who is also an academic at the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University, described how the robot has the potential to reduce fuel costs and labour for farmers, while reducing the environmental impact caused by bulk herbicide spraying.
Financial pressures on farmers are resulting in many fields being 10 per cent or more weed-covered, reducing grazing opportunities for livestock - and this is where the robot comes in, he said.
It is anticipated that the machine would retail at about the same cost as an ATV to make it affordable to most farmers.
A consortium of SMEs are behind the IBEX project which receives co-funding from the AgriTech Catalyst of the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, on behalf of Defra.
The consortium’s advisers include current and former staff of the South Yorkshire Grassland Society, Google, the United Nations, Cambridge University and Harvard Business School. It is also working with Leeds University on ideas for using the robots for other agricultural tasks.