Autonomous tractor

TESTING THE CONCEPT OF DRIVERLESS TECHNOLOGY

CASE IH UNVEILED an autonomous tractor concept at the 2016 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, that combines the latest in technology and tractor engineering.

PHOTO: CASE IH AUTONOMOUS TRACTOR CONCEPT.

Company executives presented a video demonstration of the driverless Magnum CVT tractor tilling and planting soybeans in a double-crop situation on land in Kentucky. As the autonomous tractor works, the video asks producers to “imagine being able to remotely operate and monitor your equipment via a portable tablet. You could just select a vehicle and send it to the field.”

Case IH, who partnered with CNH Industrial, says that the driverless tractor works by travelling along private premapped guidance routes. Through the use of advanced obstacle detection using radar, LiDAR (light imaging, detection, and ranging) and onboard video cameras, the vehicle can sense stationary or moving obstacles in its path and will stop on its own until the obstacle clears or the producer, notified by audio and visual alerts, assigns it a new path.

Using a portable tablet or desktop computer, the producer assigns a new path by seeing real-time views from the tractor’s on-board cameras, and directing the equipment around the obstacle.

The onboard software system can also automatically plot the most efficient in-field path, taking into account the terrain, obstructions, and other machines being used in the same field.

Case IH says a large advantage to the driverless concept is it allows producers to make the most of narrow weather windows and work around-the-clock to increase a farm’s overall productivity.

“This project has been ongoing for a number of years and represents our commitment to innovation,” says Leo Bose, manager AFS Marketing with Case IH. “The autonomous concept vehicle allows us to look not only at technologies that can be provided today, but at those which can be provided well into the future as well.”

FARMER FEEDBACK
Bose says that the feedback received so far has been positive, with many producers saying that the hardest thing they’re dealing with in their operation is finding the skilled labour to operate the various types of equipment.

“So, this autonomous vehicle concept allows them the flexibility to adjust and redistribute their labour throughout the farm,” explains Bose.

Bose says while bringing the autonomous vehicle concept forward allows Case IH to show people the capability of what it can do today, the vehicle remains a concept and there are no concrete plans to bring it to market. He says bringing it to market will depend on producer interest and how they see the concept fitting in their current fleet and operation.

Still, Bose says that autonomous technology has been progressing well in many other sectors, including automotive, mining, and the military.

“The automotive sector is what will drive the regulation portion of this technology,” explains Bose. “Right now, it has to remain on private land, so a consideration is larger fields where you have to cross over public roads. How do you get it from one side to the other? These are the types of things that need to be considered.”

FUTURE OUTLOOK
So, where do we go from here?

“For us, it’s gaining the interest from the producers, getting their feedback on how they think they can use this technology in their operation, and then we’ll take their feedback to create greater efficiencies,” says Bose. “We want to maximize their return on investment.”

Bose is asking producers to visit the company website at www.caseih.com to watch the two-and-a-half minute video showcasing the autonomous tractor and then fill out the short online survey.

“Ultimately, we’re here for the producers so we need their feedback,” explains Bose.

The release of the autonomous tractor comes as Case IH rebrands its tagline to ‘Rethink Productivity’. The rebranding is meant to demonstrate a new focus on future innovations that help producers achieve what it calls High-Efficiency Farming practices — that is greater productivity by considering and putting the whole farm including the land, seed, chemicals, fertilizer, manpower, and equipment to optimal use.

“We’re officially adopting ‘Rethink Productivity’ as our North American brand tagline because it embodies both our approach to equipment innovation and our customers’ approach to their operations,” said 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 in the pursuit of high-efficiency farming.” •