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Autonomous tractors go into field trials

Case IH puts robotic tractors into farmers’ hands for “real-world” testing

Ever since its introduction in 2016 of the autonomous Magnum concept tractor at the Farm Progress Show in Iowa, Case IH has been showing the machine all around the world. In the process, brand staff say, they’ve been talking with farmers and customers about how the technology could be best used.

Now Case IH reveals it is involved in “real-world” testing, announcing a partnership with Bolthouse Farms, a major carrot grower and food wholesaler in Canada and the U.S. It will put autonomous tractors use on its locations across four U.S. states and in Canada (watch the company video here).

The pilot program will focus first on primary tillage and deep tillage, something Bolthouse Farms does on a year-round basis. It will use a small fleet of autonomous Steiger Quadtrac tractors pulling a Case IH implements. This, says the company, “will help evaluate autonomous machine control in a variety of tillage applications, soil types, meteorological conditions and sensing and perception activities”.

“One of the primary goals is to receive agronomic and operator feedback on the use of autonomous technology in real-world farm conditions, so Case IH can further develop and refine our technological control and machine optimization systems,” said Robert Zemenchik, Case IH AFS global product manager, in a press release. “Additionally, we will be able to learn from Bolthouse Farms what uses it envisions for automation and autonomy that we might not have already thought of.”

photo: Case IH

“While the autonomous concept vehicle reveal in 2016 showed the world what’s possible with autonomous vehicles, it was just that — a concept,” added Zemenchik, “This working tractor provided a platform for us to start discussions with farmers and the industry about the technology needed for High-Efficiency Farming operations today and in the future. We’re ready to show how automation and autonomy applies across agriculture and how it can advance the precision farming solutions our customers are currently using on their farms.”

As it begins actual on-farm evaluations of robotic machines, Case IH is also bringing some definitions to the world autonomous equipment. In the automotive sector, SAE (The Society of Automotive Engineers) has created its own official ratings category that defines the level of autonomy built into any particular on-road vehicle. It ranges from zero, with virtually no autonomous operations, to five, which defines a vehicle that requires no human intervention.

The Case IH says it has found that current and future technology needs to fall into one of five categories of automation for agricultural field applications. The categories and types of activities associated with each include:

  • Guidance
  • Co-ordination and Optimization
  • Operator Assisted Autonomy
  • Supervised Autonomy
  • Full Autonomy

“It’s exciting to explore the efficiencies that automation and, eventually, full autonomy can bring to each farming operation,” Zemenchik said. “The logic behind the categories is to provide a vision of what’s possible. They are not linear, and a given fleet may even fit into more than one category at a time. Today, many of our customers are already operating in the Guidance and/or Operator Assisted Autonomy categories.”

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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