Autonomous robotics prompt safety initiatives at the University of Illinois

As new technological innovations in agriculture continue to advance, it is critical to understand the safety implications of automated equipment. The Ag Safety Group at the University of Illinois has launched a series of initiatives to advance research and discussion of ag robotics safety and regulations.

“The goal is to look at the new technology that is coming into play in the next decades and asking, how can we make sure this technology is a benefit to workers from a safety perspective, and also a benefit to the community?” says Salah Issa, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Illinois Extension specialist.

Salah Issa welcomes participants at the U of I Safer Ag Workshop

Issa directs the UIUC Agricultural Safety and Health Program, which hosted a SAFER AG workshop in November 2022 with support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The two-day workshop hosted more than 100 attendees representing industry, academia, ag producers, non-profit groups, and government.

The workshop focused on four major issues: social implications and workforce dynamics; risk assessment and management; standards and government regulations; and occupational safety.

“There are many questions we need to address in these areas,” Issa says. “For example, how will driverless tractors impact farming? Are they safer for the farmer, or are there new safety risks we need to consider? How will autonomy impact local communities and the labor force? And how should safety standards and regulations be updated to address the new technologies?”

To keep the discussion going, the Ag Safety program has started a Linkedin group that serves as an informal community of practice bringing together individuals interested in exploring safety for emerging robotics and autonomous agriculture.

Issa is also managing editor of a special issue of the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health. Issa and his colleagues have authored three papers for the journal; they are encouraging other researchers to submit papers related ag robotics and safety. The deadline for submissions is April 20.


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