Autonomous Tractor Technology in the Fast Lane

Growers may see autonomous technologies sooner than they think with investments by universities, machinery companies and  funding bodies converging.

University of Southern Queensland (USQ) National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) director Professor Craig Baillie has been conducting research into how autonomous and semi-autonomous machinery can best be introduced to agriculture.

tractor technology

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Professor Baillie believes Australia is an attractive market for companies to design and test new technologies. He said this was due to the combination of challenging farming conditions and innovative farmers.

“Australian farmers are renowned for being on the leading edge of innovation” he said.

Who’s in front?

Professor Baillie said that autonomous tractor base technology like auto steer, machine optimisation and sensors were already in use on-farm.

He said all six major international tractor manufacturers had developed key technologies that provided a ‘pathway to autonomy’.

Professor Baillie said that of the six major manufacturers, John Deere and CNH, (parent company to Case-IH and New Holland) seemed to be slightly ahead of the pack, having released operational concept vehicles.

However, he said this did not mean that Agco, Claas, Same Deutz-Fahr and Kubota were not making progress. He said each of these companies were concentrating on bringing these technologies to market and were only behind by the slimmest of margins.

Bolt-on options

Professor Baillie predicts that the third party “bolt-on” technology providers such as ASI Solutions (ASI) and Precision Makers will lead the way, similar to how Beeline Technologies led the way in GPS auto steer.

Experience with GPS autosteer indicates that third party suppliers of autonomous technology are more likely to release product before the major tractor manufacturers.

However, this assumes there will be an absence of coordinated industry engagement which to date has not been the case.

ASI has been working in partnership with John Deere as well as CNH.

Meanwhile Precision Makers have already equipped a Fendt tractor in Australia for autonomous commercial operations.

This article was originally published by The Land.

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