Digital Twin Technology Spearheads Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives at Loughborough University

Digital Twin in the fields

Loughborough University’s School of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering is making strides in addressing labour shortages, environmental concerns, and enhancing productivity.

The University’s experts have introduced a cutting-edge navigation system to support two significant projects, each aiming to boost the efficiency of fruit production across the UK.

The first project, Precision Orchard Management for the Environment (POME), commands a budget of £4.5 million. This four-year initiative, spearheaded by Hutchinsons in collaboration with NIAB and other external partners, seeks to digitally map fruit trees. The project, receiving financial backing from commercial entities, DEFRA, and Innovate UK, aims to create precise dosing maps for various orchard needs, including blossom and fruit thinning, fertiliser application, and pest control. This approach is expected to yield more accurate predictions for crop yields.

In a parallel endeavour, the Area-H project, undertaken with Antobot and other partners, utilises the University’s navigation system to aid in the development and support of autonomous agricultural robots. This three-year project, with a budget of £1.5 million from DEFRA and Innovate UK, is set to revolutionise fieldwork in agriculture.

Matt Coombes, a senior lecturer in autonomous vehicles, commented on the POME project: “To withstand the impacts of climate change and labour shortages post-Brexit, UK horticulture must rapidly innovate. Our goal is to refine agricultural techniques to enhance efficiency and reduce pesticide usage. Initially, we will merge drone and ground robot data to create an accurate digital twin of an orchard, which will then guide a high-precision autonomous spraying platform, ensuring targeted application based on the digital twin.”

Dr Cunjia Liu, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, remarked: “Participating in these pioneering horticulture projects, funded by the UKRI Farming Innovation Programme, offers us a chance to apply our extensive research in robotics and AI to the critical challenges facing UK horticulture. Our objective is to advance our knowledge and improve technology readiness through active collaboration with key project stakeholders. This collaboration is not merely about immediate solutions; it’s about creating enduring research impacts that will forge a path towards a more sustainable and resilient agricultural future.”

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