Field work contracting with driverless equipment will be available next year as Agrointelli distributor Autonomous Agri Systems (AAS) introduces a “robot as a service” option for sowing, weeding and band-spraying.

As with conventional contracting, users of RaaS operations will pay a fee based on the task, the equipment required and the area covered.

Two examples of the five Agrointelli Robotti autonomous tool carriers now in Britain are being used commercially by farms.

These farms operate the machines themselves for sowing, inter-row hoeing and band spraying in vegetable crops such as leeks, onions, brassicas, carrots and parsnips.

See also: Ontario farmer gets robot fleet to complete arable fieldwork

FarmDroid Seed and Weed

© Peter Hill

The others are available for demonstrations and the RaaS contracting service, which has been trialled with a grower this year for drilling, hoeing and band-spraying more than 150ha of sugar beet.

The service is comprehensive, and includes supplying the equipment, setting up field operations, and monitoring the machine.

“As much as anything, this was an opportunity for us to learn about how to deliver a Robotti contracting service in which we manage the whole process,” says Tom Beach of AAS.

“But it’s also about potential users seeing the benefits and practicalities of robots for their crops without committing to capital expenditure.”

Tom anticipates the service being available for around £70/ha depending on the operations and therefore the equipment required, and the area involved, and is aiming for price parity with conventional machinery.

Growers then get the benefits of a vehicle weighing only 3t in terms of soil compaction and being able to drill in wetter conditions to hit target dates, while seeing the potential for significant labour savings.

Alternatively, customers can rent a Robotti for £30,000 to £40,000 a year – again depending upon specification and equipment.

They can handle its operation themselves, or buy one outright for an on-farm price of around £200,000 for one or two field operations.

The introduction of the Robotti LR with its improved hydraulics system means Agrointelli is focusing development on this single-engine version with implement power take-off.

This previously required the costlier and heavier twin diesel motor version.

Alternative options

Other driverless equipment has also made it into the commercial arena.

This includes the FarmDroid FD20 precision sowing and weeding machine, which with 16 units being used commercially, is comfortably the most popular.

The three-wheel machines are Capable of taking out weeds both within and between the row before and after the crop has emerged.

They are being used to establish sugar beet, organic fodder beet, conventional and organically grown onions, swedes and turnips, organic red beet, herbs including parsley, and flowers.

The regular battery-electric FD20 three-wheeler with its large solar panel canopy is priced from £69,548 for a four-row and £76,908 for a six-rower from distributor Opico.

A pair of two-wheel drive AgXeed AgBot driverless tractors are the first to enter commercial service in Britain, tackling the repeated fine-mowing needed to produce turf.

They are understood to be totting up more than 1,200ha a week.

Driverless farm vehicle

© Autonomous Agri Systems

Meanwhile, one of the 156hp tracked versions is set to help research the practical introduction of driverless machines in UK agriculture.

It will be operated by the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and based at AMRC Cymru.

This unit, near Chester, is focused on turning world-leading research into practical improvements for industries.

AgBot put to work

AgXeed’s UK sales manager, Peter Robinson, adds that the Dutch company recently produced AgBot number 90 against some 130 orders from dealers in Europe and further afield in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Machines in commercial use are apparently working farms ranging from a 120ha unit in Holland to a 4,800ha property in Australia.

List prices in Britain range from £15,000 for the narrow three-wheeled orchard model, through £190,000 for the four-wheel version to £300,000 for the twin-track machine.

UK dealers are Soil Essentials for Scotland and ASC Autonomy (an associate of precision farming specialist AS Communications) for England.