Have Robotic Tractors Arrived?
Aug 16, 2011
It was one of those days that years from now, I can say I was there. In late July, Kinze Manufacturing unveiled the results of the Kinze Automation Project.
After a two-year partnership with Jaybridge Robotics, Kinze had its first display of the Automation Project at its annual Dealer Day. The combine rolled along and as the tractor and grain cart came to meet it, there was something missing—a tractor driver.
That demonstration showed how the system syncs the tractor and grain cart with the combine in the field. Using the monitor in the combine, the tractor can be called to find the combine in the field, pull adjacent to the combine for unloading, follow the combine’s path of travel until the cart is full, and then return to the field’s pre-set "staging area." The grain truck driver can find the tractor and grain cart in the staging area, jump in the cab and unload the grain cart.
Of course, the grain cart used in the demonstration was a Kinze wagon, but the demonstration stepped outside the company’s main machinery line—planters.
Although the first demonstration of this Kinze system was integrated for harvesting, the first field trial for the company was done at planting. The planter and tractor were set with GPS boundaries around the field and then the system calculated the map to follow in planting the field. At the starting point on the map, the tractor begins to move forward and the planter engages and continues on its prescribed path—all without a person in the driver’s seat.
The system can be programmed with known field obstacles (waterways, trees, fences, etc.) and the optical sensors will detect any immediate obstacles (vehicles parked since the map was developed, stray livestock, etc.)
Company leaders say this technology has other opportunities, and they will continue to move toward commercializing this technology for field application. The harvest and planting demonstrations used a John Deere 8030 tractor, and the company says it intends to extend the platforms compatible with the system to include many brands and models of tractors, sprayers and other ag machinery.