Are Autonomous Tractors the Future of Farming?
Staff posted on August 31, 2016 |
(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
Attendees of the 2016 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa got a glimpse at the future of agriculture when CNH Industrial held a public preview of its concept autonomous tractor technology. The concept was displayed in two distinct tractor versions based on the company's Case IH and New Holland Agriculture brands.

The versions include an entirely cabless concept Case IH Magnum and a New Holland T8 NHDrive concept tractor, which maintains its cab for operating flexibility. Aside from the driverless technology they use a conventional engine, transmission, chassis and implement couplings. 

Auto-steering and telematics are already available on today's tractors but autonomous technology takes this a significant stage further.

Based on the existing Case IH Magnum and New Holland T8 high-horsepower conventional tractors, and using GPS in conjunction with satellite correction signals for guidance as well as recording and transmission of field data, the company’s autonomous tractor concept has been designed to allow remote deployment, monitoring and control of the machines.

 

Driving an Autonomous Tractor

The process of operating either tractor begins with inputting field boundary maps into the system and then using integrated path planning software to plot the most efficient field paths for machines. The system automatically accounts for implement widths and also plots the most efficient paths when working with multiple machines, including those operating with different implement widths and with varying operating requirements.

(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
Manual path plotting can also be carried out for refueling or when custom paths are required.

The machine and implement can be monitored and controlled either via a desktop computer or via a portable tablet interface, which can both display three operating screens.

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.

According to CNH, both designs feature a “complete sensing and perception package,” which includes radar, LiDAR and video cameras to ensure obstacles or obstructions in the tractor’s path or that of the implement are detected and avoided.

If an object is detected in the tractor’s path, visual and audio warnings appear on the control interface, 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 driving onwards.

CNH also predicts that “In the future these concept tractors will be able to use ‘big data’ such as real time weather satellite information to automatically make best use of ideal conditions, independent of human input, regardless of the time of day.”

(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
(Image courtesy of CNH Industrial.)
CNH has been working with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Incorporated (ASI), a provider of off-road autonomous technology, to develop its autonomous tractors.

For more on the future of farming, find out why agriculture drones are exploding.

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