Driverless tractor takes autonomous to the farm

Date:29 August 2017 Tags:, , , ,

Autonomous vehicles aren’t just for highways as this driverless tractor concept shows.

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.

The driverless tractor

First shown at the 2016 US Farm Progress Show and recently awarded European honours, the Autonomous Concept Vehicle (ACV) is a driverless tractor and a 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.

Working with what they have

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

The ACV is based on existing Case IH Magnum high-horsepower conventional tractors and uses GPS-guided 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. It is also 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 pre-programmed menu and set it to work. All work can be monitored 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.

Safety first

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.