Continuous field testing of prototype machinery can be a challenge for Canadian ag equipment manufacturers, because our long winters limit access to fields. A good option is to head to southern portions of the U.S. where milder climates make year-round testing possible. Only that way can engineers rack up the maximum number of hours on a machine in the shortest possible time.
For the development team at DOT Technology Corp., fields at the University of Arizona’s ag research station at Maricopa was the ideal setting to put their autonomous “power platform” to work through the winter.
“Thank goodness we have Arizona,” said Leah Olson-Friesen, CEO of DOT Technology Corp. “The real objective there is to validate the hardware and software, so for our spring release we have done a lot of hours (of testing). We’re doing our operations 12 hours a day, six days a week.”
In March DOT Technology Corp. organized a public demonstration event at the U of A facility to showcase the current state of development of the autonomous power platform to a large group of farmers and ag industry people, including representatives from other manufacturers who may be considering building DOT-ready implements.
“The objective for today was to showcase some of the development,” said Olson-Friesen during the event. “This is a great place for us to demonstrate in the field what DOT is capable of doing…”
DOT Technology has already started commercializing the DOT power platform with an initial limited sale offering. The first machines went out to customers in April and will make history as the first group of autonomous machines to seed prairie fields on a scale never before seen.
The early-adopter producers who’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a DOT will be getting a lot of extra product support from the company, as it moves toward full commercialization. If you wanted one but didn’t get in on that initial release of units, don’t despair. The company will be releasing another batch this summer.
“We do have a second release (of DOTs). That will be at the end of June, early July,” said Olson-Friesen. “We’re giving farmers a choice of a variety of support, either remote access or in-person support. And that will be the farmer’s choice.
“We do have power platforms available with sprayer units from Pattison as well as our SeedMaster drill. We’re continuing to evolve our grain cart. But there will be a limited number of SeedMaster grain carts available this summer, too.”
Currently DOT is capable of working with a SeedMaster drill and Pattison Liquid Systems 120-foot sprayer body. At the Arizona event, New Leader announced it would begin producing a dry box spreader system that is specifically designed for DOT, further expanding its range of functions.
“We’re very proud and excited to be able to work with New Leader,” Olson-Friesen said.
Rob Saik, who founded the consulting firm Agri-Trend, is now working with DOT Technology Corp., and he thinks this range of implements and the technology and data capture associated with them may well open up new opportunities for producers to consider seeding, fertilizing and crop protection functions in an entirely different way.
“Today we’re in what I call Agriculture 5.0,” he told the crowd at the U of A. “This is the era of convergence where biosynthesis, market segmentation, sensors, 3D printers, robotics, water precision all wrapped into data is upon us. At one time if I talked to you about auto steer, it was a single conversation. Today as you’ll see in DOT, all these technologies are mashed together.”
He thinks applying fertilizer incrementally in season without greatly increasing labour needs may be one of the benefits DOT power platforms offer.
“Right now it’s about a five-to seven-minute process to pick up or switch an implement,” added Norbert Beaujot, inventor and founder of DOT. “So it’s just as quick to hook up to the back of a tractor. With time that will become quicker, because we’ll be able to move into the target (implement) autonomously.
“My overall concept for the design was based on, in our world, trying to satisfy about 3,000 acres of farmland for each DOT unit, being able to seed or plant, spray and look after the harvest activity for 3,000 acres.”
Research into creating other implements to work with DOT is also continuing.
“We’ve done a 41-foot land roller that we’re experimenting with,” said Beaujot. “It’s not farm ready yet.”
In the near term, sales of DOT power platforms will be handled by the company on a direct-to-producer basis.
“What we’re wanting to do for the initial 50 to 100 sales is we want to have direct feedback,” said Olson-Friesen. “We will work with others in sales as Rob (Saik) develops the longer-term strategy. But with the amount of information we need to gather as we continue our longer-term strategy, we feel the best way to do some of these sales is direct to farmers. The company has set pricing for the initial production units, but they expect that will change as manufacturing ramps up and suppliers come online.
“We’re selling the power platform for US$260,000,” she adds. “You can buy the full package for just over US$500,000. That includes the power platform, a sprayer and a drill. We’re now working with our suppliers to get prices nailed down and ensure our supply chain is strong.”