What a few years ago might have sounded like a technology lifted from a sci-fi movie is about to become a standard sight on U.S. farms, if Autonomous Solutions, Inc., has its way. The company debuted two concept autonomous tractors in August with CNH Industrial – one for a cables Case IH Magnum and another for New Holland T8.
According to ASI, these tractors will allow for driverless seeding, planting and tillage. The tractors include obstacle detection capabilities as a safety feature. Mel Torrie, ASI founder and CEO, says he hopes the technology will lead to “near-term disruption” in the agriculture industry.
“CNH Industrial’s selection of ASI as a long term, strategic robotic development provider validates the capability and flexibility of our robotics platform in reducing the risk and costs for equipment manufacturers to bring advanced capabilities to their respective industries,” he says.
ASI envisions these tractors to be operated either manned or unmanned – or in some cases, having autonomous tractors work in tandem with other manned manned machinery. The technology would also allow for varying implements to complete multiple tasks, such as tilling and planting, in a single process.
According to Carlo Lambro, brand president of New Holland Agriculture, users will be able to control autonomous equipment via their desktop computer or portable tablet. They’ll be able to see a path-plotting screen that shows the tractor’s progress, as well as a live camera feed with two front and two rear real-time views. Users will be able to monitor and modify a number of vehicle parameters, including engine speed, implement settings, seeding rate, coulter downforce and more.
Lambro also points out that driverless tractors could enable 24-hour farming during time-critical parts of the season, including planting hand harvest, in part because it can reduce human error by following “predetermined and optimized plans.”
“The NHDrive concept autonomous tractor offers us the opportunity to open up completely new horizons for future farming,” he says. “An autonomous tractor that is able to work day and night helps solve the problem of a lack of specialized labor during the most intense seasons, makes 100% use of the periods of favorable weather for various farming activities, and maximizes the rational use of resources.”
Officials at Case IH say they hope recent farmer demos of their concept autonomous tractor will provide informative first farmer reactions of the technology.
"We just want to know how much interest producers have in these autonomous features, and what else they would like to see from us,” says Leo Bose, Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) marketing manager. “It’s not a product launch, by any means. But it could certainly lead to one, or several, down the road.”
In congruence with its concept autonomous tractor announcement, Case IH says it has changed its company tagline to “Rethink Productivity.”
“[The tagline] embodies both our approach to equipment innovation and our customers’ approach to their operations,” says Tom Dean, marketing director for Case IH North America. “In today’s ag economy, producers know they must focus on achieving the highest level of efficiency if they want to grow and succeed. That’s why we are intensifying our focus on the combination of advanced technologies and agronomic design.”
ASI has also been working with equipment manufacturers in other sectors, including companies such as Ford, Toyota and Boeing.