Robotics and Autonomous Equipment
Moorehead said engineers have to approach solving problems through autonomy and robotics by completely understanding the way that the customer works and how a system can fit into specific operations.
“All the things on this vehicle (orchard unit) can be used to work in corn and soybeans on an 8000 series tractor or a 9000 series tractor,” he said. “The one thing that people don’t understand too much about robotics is how many of these technologies, and many of the strategies, are very ‘generalizable’ to the full range of agricultural operations.”
CHALLENGES STILL AHEAD
Torrie noted there are challenges for autonomous equipment being built for growers by non-major OEMs. When a unit needs service, repairs and parts, they need to be just as available for the autonomous system as for conventional equipment. He thinks sales, distribution and support are huge challenges for a non-mega equipment manufacturer.
John Deere has a proven results project to replace the driver in mowing and spraying operations in an orchard with an autonomous unit. Some people see the autonomous and robotic endeavors as just attempting to replace the driver. Taking the driver cab and control pod off of a tractor could save up to 30 percent out of a tractor’s manufacturing cost, he contends.
Restructuring the size of equipment might be one of the most far-reaching changes. He suggested four small autonomous units might replace one large conventionally manned unit. The breakdown of a small unit leaves three still running, but the breakdown of the large unit brings everything to a halt.
Safety is one of the biggest issues, and types of sensors to do its specific agricultural task plus identify obstructions and other vehicles are key. Those sensors exist; it is just that these sensors are quite costly. But Torrie credits Google and the automotive industry in making headway so that supervised autonomy will be accepted as safe and for the production of lower-cost, mass-produced sensors needed in agriculture. Google is pushing governments to change regulations outlawing much of the autonomous industry.
Change in regulations is definitely needed in allowing Kim’s ideas and autonomous technology service to become widespread. Currently, Federal Aviation Administration regulations don’t allow large-scale autonomous aerial vehicles to fly except under the supervision of university researchers.
ROW CROP HELICOPTER SERVICE
But of course, Kim sees his helicopter service as being more efficient and environmentally friendly as well as more economical for helping all types of growers earn a profit.