Look ma, no hands

Farm­ing goes driver­less

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents -

ALTHOUGH FARM­ING HAS BE­COME in­creas­ingly mech­a­nised, the heavy ma­chin­ery in­volved has still de­pended on skilled op­er­a­tors – un­til now. The au­ton­o­mous trac­tor con­cept pic­tured here prom­ises to take pre­ci­sion farm­ing to the next level.

First shown at the 2016 US Farm Progress Show and re­cently awarded Euro­pean hon­ours, the Au­ton­o­mous Con­cept Ve­hi­cle (ACV) is a driver­less ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing model. The con­cept grew out of the in­creas­ing difficulty of find­ing skilled labour to work long hours on large farms dur­ing busy pe­ri­ods, such as when har­vest­ing or es­tab­lish­ing a crop, says Case IH’S Dan Stuart. Five years of devel­op­ment pro­duced the ACV, whose tech­nol­ogy will likely trickle down to ex­ist­ing sys­tems. “While auto-steer­ing and teleme­try are al­ready avail­able on to­day’s trac­tors, au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy takes this a sig­nif­i­cant stage fur­ther,” says Stuart.

The com­pany is keep­ing an eye on de­vel­op­ments in au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle reg­u­la­tions, de­vel­op­ing its on-road side and look­ing at op­ti­mis­ing im­ple­ments for au­ton­o­mous ap­pli­ca­tion.

The ACV is based on ex­ist­ing Case IH Mag­num high­horse­power con­ven­tional trac­tors and uses GPSguided auto-steer­ing. It can be com­pletely re­motely mon­i­tored and con­trolled, with real-time record­ing and trans­mis­sion of field data. Aside from the driver­less tech­nol­ogy it uses a stan­dard en­gine, trans­mis­sion, chas­sis and hitch/pto/ hy­draulic cou­plings and in­te­grates seam­lessly into ex­ist­ing trac­tor oper­a­tions. Re­mote con­trol Au­ton­o­mous drive is suited to cul­ti­va­tion, plant­ing and spray­ing and is equally ap­pli­ca­ble to smaller trac­tors used for mow­ing or or­chard spray­ing. To start with, the most ef­fi­cient field paths are pre-plot­ted by com­puter (man­ual plot­ting is pos­si­ble). The op­er­a­tor can then choose a job from a pre­pro­grammed menu and set it to work, mon­i­tor­ing things by means of a PC or tablet. The re­mote con­trol shows data and a cam­era feed.

On-board sen­sors au­to­mat­i­cally gov­ern en­gine start/stop, ac­cel­er­a­tion/ de­cel­er­a­tion, en­gine revs, steer­ing an­gle, trans­mis­sion, PTO, link­age and hy­draulic ser­vices op­er­a­tion, dif­fer­en­tials and horn. The route to the field can also be planned, should this in­volve driv­able pri­vate roads or tracks.

Tech­nol­ogy provider ASI has helped cre­ate the ve­hi­cle’s safety pack­age us­ing the lat­est in­frared, metal de­tec­tion, radar, laser and video tech­nol­ogy. That’s ca­pa­ble of sens­ing an ob­ject in the way, stop­ping the ve­hi­cle and send­ing a re­quest for fur­ther in­struc­tions. Which could in­clude wait, drive around the ob­sta­cle or, if it’s just a straw pile, pro­ceed. Fail­safes in­clude au­to­matic stop in the event of a loss of GPS sig­nal.

There’s the po­ten­tial to use Big Data such as weather records and soil data, too. The driver­less trac­tor could con­ceiv­ably op­er­ate 24/7 if con­di­tions are good, stop if they are change­able, and move to another field if soils there are lighter or there has been no rain.

Its abil­ity to in­te­grate with im­ple­ments has been suc­cess­fully demon­strated and Case IH has de­vel­oped ad­vanced seed­ing in­for­ma­tion sen­sors and soft­ware, draft mon­i­tor­ing and other im­ple­ment soft­ware for per­for­mance su­per­vi­sion.

Auto-steer­ing and teleme­try are al­ready avail­able on to­day’s trac­tors, but au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy takes this a sig­nif­i­cant stage fur­ther.”

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