Trac­tors sans driv­ers

The lat­est com­pany to launch ro­bot trac­tors sys­tem has no seat for a hu­man

The Witness - Wheels - - TRANSPORT -

CNH In­dus­trial last week re­vealed two bolt-on au­ton­o­mous trac­tors sys­tems in London.

One trac­tor still has a seat for a driver, but the stream­lined trac­tor that at­tracted ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion dis­penses en­tirely with the need of a hu­man hand on a steer­ing wheel.

CNH said their driver­less tech­nol­ogy will boost pro­duc­tiv­ity through pre­ci­sion farm­ing.

Pre­ci­sion farm­ing is a long proven farm­ing prac­tice, with SA’s top John Deere dealer at Mas­cor in Grey­town sell­ing sev­eral agri­cul­tural ma­chines than steer them­selves to plant seeds with square inch ac­cu­racy over the same fields year after year.

In London, CNH used a Case and a New Hol­land trac­tor to demon­strate its self-steer­ing abil­i­ties.

CNH said in a state­ment the au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy will sus­tain­ably boost pro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity dur­ing har­vest times by mak­ing the most of ideal soil and weather con­di­tions, as well as avail­able labour.

While John Deere still al­lows hu­man driv­ers by pop­u­lar de­mand, CNH has re­leased ro­bot trac­tors with no space for a hu­man — the ca­b­less con­cept Case IH Mag­num.

For farm­ers who will re­quire hu­man in­ter­ven­tion at some point, CNH has the New Hol­land T8 NHDrive con­cept trac­tor that can steer it­self or be steered.

The process of op­er­at­ing ei­ther trac­tor be­gins with in­putting field bound­ary maps into the sys­tem, and then us­ing the in­te­grated path plan­ning soft­ware to plot the most ef­fi­cient field paths for ma­chines.

CNH said the ro­bot trac­tors are best at drudgery jobs that re­quire min­i­mal com­plex op­er­a­tor in­ter­ven­tion, like cul­ti­va­tion, plant­ing, spray­ing and mow­ing.

As with John Deere’s sys­tem, the CNH ma­chines and im­ple­ments can be mon­i­tored and con­trolled ei­ther via a desk­top com­puter or via a por­ta­ble tablet in­ter­face.

A path-plot­ting screen shows the trac­tor’s progress, another shows its live cam­era feeds, pro­vid­ing the user with up to four real-time views (two front and two rear), while a fur­ther screen en­ables mon­i­tor­ing and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of key ma­chine and im­ple­ment pa­ram­e­ters such as en­gine speed, fuel lev­els and im­ple­ment set­tings — seed­ing rate or planter down­force, for ex­am­ple.

Should an ob­ject be de­tected in the trac­tor’s path, visual and au­dio warn­ings ap­pear on the con­trol in­ter­face — ei­ther tablet in­ter­face or desk­top — which of­fers a choice of how the trac­tor should re­spond: by wait­ing for hu­man in­ter­ven­tion, driv­ing around the ob­sta­cle us­ing ei­ther a man­u­ally or au­to­mat­i­cally plot­ted path or, in the event that it is some­thing such as a straw pile or tree branch, driv­ing on­wards.

Should some­thing — for ex­am­ple, another ma­chine — cross its path and con­tinue mov­ing, it will come to a mo­men­tary stand­still and move off again once its way is clear.

In the in­stance op­er­at­ing pa­ram­e­ters be­come crit­i­cal, as in the case of low fuel or seed lev­els, the same no­ti­fy­ing sys­tem is em­ployed. Any crit­i­cal ma­chine alarms or loss of crit­i­cal ma­chine con­trol func­tions cause the au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle to stop au­to­mat­i­cally for safety rea­sons, while a stop but­ton on the con­trol in­ter­face can be ac­ti­vated man­u­ally for the same pur­pose.

These au­ton­o­mous tech­nolo­gies have been de­signed so that, in the fu­ture, they could be fur­ther de­vel­oped to en­able their ap­pli­ca­tion across the full range of equip­ment in a mod­ern farmer’s fleet. This could en­com­pass the full range of trac­tors, har­vest­ing equip­ment and sup­port ve­hi­cles, such as sprayers.

CNH In­dus­trial has worked with its long-stand­ing tech­nol­ogy provider Au­ton­o­mous So­lu­tions In­cor­po­rated (ASI), a Utah-based com­pany that is the in­dus­try leader in off-road au­ton­o­mous so­lu­tions, in or­der to de­velop and re­fine this con­cept au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy.


The con­cept trac­tor Case IH Mag­num was de­signed by CNH In­dus­trial to take it­self to a field to do drudgery driv­ing jobs that re­quire min­i­mal in­put from an op­er­a­tor, such as har­vest­ing or plant­ing.

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