In the field
Among the many things these two designs have in common is a complete sensing and perception package, which includes radar, LiDAR (range finding lasers) and video cameras to ensure obstacles or obstructions in the tractor’s path or that of the implement are detected and avoided. This not only ensures the safety of anybody or anything which comes within proximity of the machine, but it also guarantees trouble-free, efficient operation for hour after hour in the field. Should an object be detected in the tractor’s path, visual and audio warnings appear on the control interface – either tablet interface or desktop – which offers a choice of how the tractor should respond: by waiting for human intervention, driving around the obstacle using either a manually or automatically plotted path or, in the event that it is something such as a straw pile or tree branch, driving onwards. Should something – for example, another machine – cross its path and continue moving, it will come to a momentary standstill and move off again once its way is clear.
In the instance operating parameters become critical, as in the case of low fuel or seed levels, the same notifying system is employed. Any critical machine alarms or loss of critical machine control functions cause the autonomous vehicle to stop automatically for safety reasons, while a stop button on the control interface can be activated manually for the same purpose.
The tractor can be left to carry out its task, monitored remotely through the tablet interface. Its screen also allowing machine and implement settings to be altered remotely. Machine tasks can be modified in real time, such as if a storm is approaching. In the future these concept tractors will be able to use ‘big data’ such as real time weather satellite information to automatically make best use of ideal conditions, independent of human input, regardless of the time of day. For example the tractor would stop automatically should it become apparent changeable weather would cause a problem, then recommence work when conditions would have sufficiently improved. Alternatively, if on private roads, they can be sent to another field destination where conditions are better – soils are lighter or there has been no rain, for example.
The tablet interface can also be mounted in another machine whose operator can supervise its activities. As an example, from the seat of a combine or tractor, the operator can monitor the progress and eventually modify the performance of an autonomous tractor/planter combination working in the same or neighboring field. As such, autonomous tractors can seamlessly integrate into an existing farm machinery fleet, with minimal operational changes. Alternatively, multiple autonomous tractors can be put to work in one field or separate fields, on the same tasks or consecutive ones – such as cultivation and seeding – all of which can be controlled through the same interface.
A vision for the future of farming
While the concept Case IH Magnum and New Holland T8 NHDrive autonomous models are using conceptual CNH Industrial technology, they address relevant real world situations. Autonomous tractor operation is suited both to owner-operator situations, where it could allow a person working with no employees to operate two tractors, or to the very largest businesses where finding suitable skilled labor is becoming increasingly more challenging.
These autonomous technologies have been designed so that, in the future, they could be further developed to enable their application across the full range of equipment in a modern farmer’s fleet. This could encompass the full range of tractors, harvesting equipment and support vehicles, such as sprayers.
CNH Industrial has worked with its long-standing technology provider Autonomous Solutions Incorporated, ASI, a Utah-based company that is the industry leader in off-road autonomous solutions, in order to develop and refine this concept autonomous technology. An intensive testing program was undertaken to ensure both the concept tractors themselves and the critical tractor/planter interface are fully functional and intuitive to operate.
Since the mid-1990s, CNH Industrial and its constituent agricultural equipment brands have led the industry in utilizing precision technology to make farming as efficient, productive and sustainable as possible. Case IH’s Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) and New Holland’s Precision Land Management (PLM) packages were among the first to make use of GPS-aided systems to allow farmers to record their field activity, make non-overlapping passes, and variably-apply fertilizer and crop protection products, so that nothing is missed or wasted. CNH Industrial’s concept autonomous tractor technology is the next step along this path – and holds significant promise for the sustainable and productive future of farming.
For further information on the concept autonomous tractors, including images, video and technical information, please visit: http://media.cnhindustrial.com/EMEA/CNH-INDUSTRIAL-CORPORATE/Autonomous_Concept_Tractors