A Glimpse of the Future

January 12, 2018 11:13 AM
Agritechnica showcases autonomous and electric technology

At Agritechnica, the world’s largest machinery show held in Germany this past November, visitors got a glimpse of the future of autonomous and electric technology.

Case IH and New Holland rocked the farm machinery world in 2016 with the autonomous Magnum and T7 NHDrive concepts. These days, all the major brands are likely working on developing an autonomous tractor, but Kubota is the first to sell one, though only in Japan. Called the AgriRobo, the tractor is based on a SL60A and brimming with sensors and cameras.

The company says the autonomous “kit” works on all their products and plans to outfit 50 systems on a range of tractors, rice planters and combines this year. Capable of automatically detecting obstacles and relaying important information to a smartphone, the rear of the tractor is fitted with hookups and a PTO that can automatically attach an implement. Kubota is offering the system in Japan because it’s the first country to allow the use of autonomous vehicles in the field. Road use isn’t allowed, however, so the cab is still in place so owners to comfortably drive the tractor back to the farm.

Austrian tractor maker Lindner showed a different take on an autonomous tractor with its Lintrac 110 and Trac Link Pilot software. The tractor can be fitted with optical and radar technology to allow it to follow a lead vehicle. The camera automatically follows the silhouette, and the radar ensures the CVT maintains the correct speed to follow at a preset distance.

The autonomous diesel-powered, hydraulically driven DOT workhorse is designed to handle a variety of implements. Once the field is mapped, using satellite imagery or by driving it to identify obstacles, and loaded, DOT uses GPS to travel the prescribed farmer-approved route with sub-inch accuracy. A 4.5-liter, 163-hp Cummins motor provides independent power to each wheel.

Switching to electric technology, Indian tractor maker Farmtrac displayed a working prototype at Agritechnica. The diesel engine in the 26-hp compact tractor has been swapped for a lithium-ion battery, which provides up to six hours of operation and takes 3½ hours for a 75% recharge. The company is considering the possibility of a battery changing system. Roughly 20% more expensive than the diesel-powered equivalent, the electric tractor is expected to go on sale in India and the U.S. in the next 18 months. By 2020, the company hopes to offer a range of electric and diesel/electric tractors from 50 hp to 110 hp.

When it comes to electric solutions, John Deere continues to develop the SESAM concept and other products. Fendt is honing its e100 tractor.
Cooperation between tractor and implement manufacturers is needed to advance electric technology as well as addressing the hurdle of expensive electric generators necessary for tractors. ZF believes an integrated electric generator is the way to go, but other tractor makers, such as Kubota, are looking to bolt-on, PTO-powered electric generators for sprayers, drill and planters. 

By Mervyn Bailey and Steven Vale

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