Robotic farming in Dorset, brought to you by Qualcomm

Dorset is working towards a future in which farming is run by a fleet of robots and has signed up its latest tech partner to help it get there: Qualcomm.

The international technology giant will supply 5G millimetre wave modules to the 5G RuralDorset project, which is led by Dorset Council and backed by government funding. As part of its agritech trials, 5G RuralDorset will evaluate the use of Qualcomm’s mmWave modules in 5G connected robotic farming.

If all goes to plan, using high frequency mmWave technology will provide sufficient capacity to allow the robots to gather and upload large amounts of data in real time. Centralised processing facilitated by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor will allow a fleet of robots to learn from each other using a complete dataset, rather than operating in isolation. Multiple robots will be able to work in parallel, saving time and capitalising on periods of good weather, while their individual processing requirements will be reduced, lowering the cost of each robot and boosting battery life.

Putting aside the image of a fleet of robots marauding through the Dorset countryside like a Doctor Who Christmas special, that all seems highly positive; both for the farming industry and for those who have been champing at the bit for real-world 5G use cases that go further than low-latency services for video gaming.

They’re coming thick and fast now, especially in areas linked to agriculture and food production. Earlier this week, Telenor shared details of a successful 5G trial at a salmon farm in a remote coastal area of Norway, for example.

“Our state of the art trials aim to produce the world’s first 5G-ready agri robot and having bleeding edge technologies under the hood is a massive boost,” said Dave Happy, Security, Spectrum and Collaboration Lead for 5G RuralDorset, in a statement.

“Alongside the 5G RuralDorset project and backed by our £200 million trials scheme, we will explore innovative uses for 5G millimeter wave spectrum to revolutionise the agricultural sector,” said Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman, while there were similarly pro-mmWave comments from Qualcomm, whose SVP, Government Affairs Wassim Chourbaji highlighted a growing number of commercial deployments across Europe.

As always with state-run projects, the sums of money being bandied about have been broadcast many times before, but why waste the opportunity for a bit of positive PR?

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme was firs mooted by the government in 2016 and has effectively been running since 2018, when it announced the names of the first half a dozen winners of funding – SMEs, universities and local authorities – who were allocated £25 million between them.

Fast forward a couple of years and the 5G RuralDorset project was one of nine outfits to win a share of £35 million under the scheme; it picked up £4.3 million in funding for its work in coastal services, agritech, commercial connectivity and 5G innovation. The mmWave 5G agri-robot trials form part of its Future of Food research area.

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