Coleg Glynllifon is breaking new ground in the agriculture industry as it trials the UK’s first commercially available fully-autonomous tractor.
The AgBot has been bought by AMRC Cymru, having been developed by agricultural tech company AgXeed as a smaller, lighter and more efficient tractor unit, which can run non-stop and unsupervised for up to 23 hours.
It is designed not only to save time for farmers, but also to help them plan ahead with daily operations to drive forward their sustainability footprint, improve farming precision and provide traceability data to support vital business decisions.
AMRC Cymru, part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre innovation cluster, plans to trial the £380,000 state-of-the-art tractor at Coleg Glynllifon’s farm, where students will gain an invaluable experience of farming methods of the future.
Martin Jardine, Director of Agri Food at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, said: “We are delighted to see the AgBot arrive on site ready for it to be used for training at Coleg Glynllifon.
“It presents a fantastic opportunity to our learners and the Welsh farming community to see first-hand the benefits associated with adopting cutting-edge technology.
“We are very much looking forward to using the AgBot to teach future generations of farmers and land managers about the automation and efficiency gains that can be achieved.
Looking to the future, Martin added: “At Coleg Glynllifon we see this as a great start to the newly-formed collaboration between Coleg Glynllifon and AMRC Cymru.
“At a time when increased productivity and sustainability gains are paramount to the agri food sector, we are delighted to showcase what is possible.
“It is an exciting time for both teams as we move forward with our plans around joint working as part of the North Wales Growth Deal programme, which will see us work closer to support the region from the Glynllifon Rural Economy hub.”
Harry Collins, senior manufacturing research engineer at AMRC Cymru, said: “We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Coleg Glynllifon, and our plan is to use the AgBot on its farm.
“That is going to provide us with a great test window and help us get lots of data as to how successful it is with varying parts of the Welsh landscape.”
Harry said the AgBot offers many advantages to agriculture, including complete autonomy - allowing it to be operated unmanned for a great length of time to help fill labour shortages. It also has a lower weight in comparison to a traditional tractor and provides less ground pressure and soil compaction.
“The idea behind it is being able to put the AgBot in a field and set it off running with tasks via a phone, laptop or tablet,” said Harry.
“'The AgBot has a very sophisticated in-built safety system. If there is an obstruction ahead, the system automatically recognises this and the tractor comes to an immediate stop. The online system sends you a notification outlining the problem and provides a list of options of how to fix it.
“This high level of health and safety is a key feature of the AgBot's operating system.”
Currently, an AgBot costs about 75 per cent more than a conventional tractor, but could provide long-term savings in terms of fuel consumption and labour costs, while its diesel generator can be switched out for the potential of future greener non-fossil fuels, such as hydrogen.
It has the standard three-point linkage, meaning the tools and equipment hitched on the front and back are compatible with those currently available in farming. It can tackle adverse weather conditions and run for almost a full day before the need to refuel.
Through an online portal of the farm and mapped field, it is also able to plot out the most efficient route on the field, taking into account headlands and navigating predefined obstacles such as trees.
The AgBot will be based at Coleg Glynllifon, but will also tour the UK at times.
The AgBot was funded through a £1.5m capital purchase grant secured by AMRC Cymru from the Welsh Government.
Based in a £20m state-of-the-art applied research centre in Broughton, North Wales, funded by the Welsh Government, AMRC Cymru is managed by the University of Sheffield and is a member of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres backed by Innovate UK.