Tractors sans drivers
The latest company to launch robot tractors system has no seat for a human
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.