Widespread availability of fully autonomous vehicles in agriculture is probably several years away. But in recent years, companies have publicly showcased self-driving innovations, advancing development to the cusp of commercial production.
A motivating factor for autonomy in ag is the desire by companies to develop smaller, more efficient, versatile vehicles to perform a variety of field operations for farmers.
This was a driving force behind the development of DOT, a new diesel powered autonomous platform, which debuted this summer. The brainchild of Norbert Beaujot, founder of DOT Technology Corp., and Saskatchewan-based equipment manufacturer SeedMaster, DOT is the result of a 3 year engineering effort to create a scalable, flexible farm implement, while also eliminating the driver.
While SeedMaster was the first company in North America to build a 100 foot seeder, Beaujot says continuing to increase the size of farm equipment will sacrifice efficiency.
“As an engineer and a farmer, the inefficiencies of those larger pieces of equipment was weighing on me heavily,” he says. “I began dwelling only on the thought, ‘How can we improve on efficiency?’ and it’s not going to be a 120 foot seeder.”
Beaujot says the development of larger machinery is being driven by a shortage of qualified farm help. Owners who have invested in several hundred thousand dollars worth of machinery want capable operators behind the wheel, covering as many acres as possible.
“But when you take the operator out of the formula and make it an autonomous operation, then you are just looking at what is most efficient for the farmer,” Beaujot says. “Efficiency is profit and ultimately that is what the farmer is looking for.”
At the Ag In Motion show near Langham, Sask., the company unveiled 4 different prototype platforms, which mount to a U-shaped autonomous tractor frame, including a seeding unit, 60 foot sprayer, grain cart and land roller.
Considering the conceptual vehicle was little more than an engineering schematic in spring 2017, Beaujot says the rapid production is a sign of things to come in terms of finding distribution partners.
“We’re introducing it very aggressively to all shortline manufacturers so that they can develop their technology to be mounted onto to DOT,” he says. “We’ve got the interest of other manufacturers. It will take a little while because we have to develop agreements with them and they have to develop trust with us because they’ll have to spend a bit of money to adopt their device to DOT.”
Beaujot added that commercial production of DOT would likely disrupt the traditional manufacturing model. But he says today’s tractor is obsolete, too inefficient and there are better production paths to be pursued going forward.
“That’s maybe hard to swallow for tractor manufacturers, but they’ve had the luxury of the last 100 years,” he says. “We’ve had one month.”
— Ag Equipment Intelligence, September 2017