Autonomous farm vehicles offer new economic and environmental benefits – but they also raise new safety issues for farmers, and the public crossing their land.

With this in mind, the Agri-EPI Centre and the Hands Free Farm project have announced a competitive brainstorming 'hackathon' event to identify new solutions for robotic farming safety.

As experts in the development of autonomous farm machinery, the HFF team have pledged to then integrate and evaluate the winning solution on their Midlands plot.

The event is open to any company or individual from any background. Registration will open on July 30 on the Agri-EPI website.

Agri-EPI’s business development director, Lisa Williams, said: “The benefits of autonomous farm machinery are many but as it becomes more commonplace in the future, and while more and more people recognise the mental health benefits of walking outdoors, it’s essential that farm automation poses no threat to the public.

“We’re excited to have Hands Free Farm on board to help us devise the hackathon and look forward to seeing the participants come up with some really innovative ideas.”

Innovate UK-funded HFF is led by Precision Decisions, with partners Farmscan Ag, Harper Adams University and Agri-EPI Centre, and builds on an earlier project, the Hands Free Hectare, in which a hectare of cereal crop was grown without any human setting foot on that hectare of land.

Precision Decisions director, Clive Blacker, said: “One of the challenges of our project is that, like many typical farms, our 35ha plot includes footpaths and roads with public access. Safety and security of the operation of autonomous machinery is of paramount importance. Addressing this issue will be critical to implementing autonomous machinery and devices in real-world commercial farming settings in the future, and gaining regulatory, market and public acceptance of the technology. We are very excited to be working with Agri-EPI to develop a robotic safety hackathon and cannot wait to see what new thinking and imagination can be applied to agriculture from any background.”