Kinze Autonomous Harvest System doesn't require a driver in the tractor cab.
Machinery maker continues testing of the system that eliminates an operator from the tractor cab.
In the middle of harvest, Monmouth, Ill., farmer Rick Elliott got a call from one of the neighbors.
"He was driving by and asked me ‘Is there anyone in that grain cart tractor?!" Rick says.
But there was no cause for alarm. Elliott’s tractor was following the combine through the field, unloading on the go, without anyone sitting in the cab. His farm was one of three in western Illinois testing the Kinze Autonomous Harvest System.
See the driverless tractor in the field:
"After unveiling our project in July of 2011, we are excited to demonstrate it in the field," says Susie Veatch, vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of Kinze Manufacturing.
The Kinze Autonomous Harvest System is comprised of the combine, tractor and grain cart outfitted with sensors, ruggedized computers, and GPS sensors. The system is controlled by the combine operator using a hand-held tablet computer and eliminates the need for an operator in the tractor cab to haul the grain cart.
"The goals for this system are efficiency, productivity, and safety," says Rhett Schildroth, Kinze product manager. "Farmers are experiencing a shortage in skilled operators for the seasonal work at harvest and planting. We also know that it’s key for the system to run as safe at the end of the day as it did at the beginning."
The autonomy project started in the lab in 2009. Then it was tested on the Kinzenbaw farm up until this year, when it’s the first year the system has been tested outside of Kinze.
"Our system takes control of the tractor’s engine, transmission, steering and brakes," Schildroth explains.
Schildroth visits with Farm Journal's Pam Fretwell:
Components on the tractor include: GPS receiver, inertial measurement sensors for hills, wheel encoders, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors, radar sensors for far-reaching sensing and a camera to see what the systems sees.
The components on the combine include: an emergency stop button, GPS receiver, communication module that networks the machines, and a tablet, which is the user interface.
Basically, the system performs in four modes: follow, unload, park, idle.
In follow, the tractor and grain cart follow the combine’s path through the field. The system reads where the combine has operated and designates those areas as safe for travel. If obstacles are known in the field, the operator can indicate them on the map, or if obstacles are encountered during harvest, for example an extreme wet hole, the area can also be marked as an obstacle to be avoided.
When the combine is ready to be unloaded, the tractor and grain cart pull alongside the combine, and sensors provide real-time reaction to any adjustments made by the combine in speed and direction.