Autonomous farm machinery drives out into the desert

DOT Technology Corp. holds an impressive demo day in Arizona

It’s obvious that Norbert Beaujot invests a lot of time thinking about the coming transformation of ag machinery, and about how to explain it to the farmers who are going to be at the very centre of the action.

Beaujot is founder of DOT Technology Corp. and the inventor of the DOT autonomous power platform, and as he recently stood at the front of a conference room at the University of Arizona’s farm research station in Maricopa, he showed the assembled group of U.S. and Canadian farmers, along with several ag industry insiders, two images.

The photos were taken on a busy street in New York; one in 1900, and the second in 1913.

Norbert Beaujot.
photo: File/Michael Raine

“If you look closely there is one car,” he said, pointing to the 1900 image. “The rest are horses.”

Then he turned to the same street photographed in 1913. It was crowded with cars.

“Just 13 years later, if you look very hard, there’s one horse left.”

That’s how quickly change can take place. Are we in this position today with DOT? What will agriculture look like in 13 years?

Beaujot is a believer. “I think we’re much more apt to change quickly now than the population was in 1900.”

In a field just outside the conference room was what DOT Technology thinks might be the modern farming equivalent of the first car among those horses. It’s the DOT autonomous power platform, which is the name marketing staff are using to describe DOT, the autonomous field robot. And it was this machine that the crowd of about 160 people really came to see.

Related Articles

As the company’s winter testing program in Arizona was starting to wind down, staff organized a public demonstration day to show off the current state of DOT’s development to potential customers and representatives of short-line implement manufacturers.

It was, essentially, a two-pronged strategy, i.e. to show farmers that DOT is ready for at least limited commercial release, and to show short-line manufacturers how they can get on board and start building implements that are DOT-ready.

Walking through the crowd before the official events began, it was clear many short-liners have already bought into the concept. I saw at least a couple of reps from different manufacturers talking to DOT marketing staff about specifications and possible implement designs.

Attendance at the demonstration day was sold out, according to staff at DOT Technology Corp.
photo: Scott Garvey

One manufacturer, New Leader, used the event to announce it has already modified its most recent dry spreader box design to work on a DOT power platform.

“Are farmers ready for autonomous farming? Yeah,” Beaujot said, asking and answering his own question. “We showed this for the first time at Ag in Motion a year and a half ago, and it’s drawn crowds everywhere we’ve been with it. Farmers are ready, as long as we have technology simple enough to use and it’s reliable.

“There’s no question farmers are ready.”

That was a message likely intended for those short-line manufacturers pondering whether or not to get on board the DOT-ready implement train.

Farmers may be ready, but one of the key messages the company wanted to get out at this event was that DOT is now ready too. Getting the technology to this stage has required a lot of testing and development, lasting well past the initial public introduction of the robot over a year ago.

“Thank goodness we have Arizona,” DOT Technology Corp’s CEO Leah Olson-Freisen told Country Guide. “We’ve been running here since January to the end of this month (March). 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. We do have a testing operation in Regina; there we’re doing 12 hours a day, five days a week. Raven, one of our partners based in South Dakota, is also doing research.”

Leah Olson-Friesen is CEO of DOT Technology Corp.
photo: Scott Garvey

That research will continue for the foreseeable future, Olson-Freisen added, even after the early production models hit prairie fields, because the company has its sights set eventually on very wide distribution of the autonomous power platform.

“In the longer term, as a manufacturer, what we’re looking for is to identify areas where we can do appropriate testing. That includes some of the universities and colleges in North America,” she said. “In the longer run we have to look at different soil types and climates, so Australia or Latin America.”

Going that far afield will be important to the company, she explained, because there has been considerable interest in the robot worker from overseas.

“The demand is absolutely there,” Olson-Freisen said. “We’ve had a number of deposit holders that come from the U.S., Australia, the Czech Republic and eastern parts of Europe. So we know there is a huge pent-up demand for it (overseas).”

But initially, the company wants to take a cautious approach to commercialization, limiting the first few rounds of sales to farmers in regions close to its headquarters so it can provide the appropriate support, which is critical in the early release of any new technology.

While Olson-Friesen won’t say how many power platforms have been sold so far, she says the company is planning to release a second production run in midsummer. And to keep a close eye on them and all machines sold to producers, the firm will continue with a direct-to-farmer sales approach for now.

“We do have a second release (of DOTs). That will be at the end of June, early July,” Olson-Freisen said. “What we’re wanting to do for the initial 50 to 100 sales is we want to have direct feedback. 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.”

And while the demonstration day was primarily intended to show the current state of development of the company’s autonomous machine, there was ample talk of what the future could hold in store for it as well. Saik, founder of the agronomic consulting firm Agri-Trend, has joined the team at DOT Technology Corp., and he has a vision for enhancing the level of technology that can be built into a DOT.

photo: Scott Garvey

“Today we’re in what I call agriculture 5.0,” Saik told the attendees in Arizona. “This is the era of convergence where biosynthesis, market segmentation, sensors, 3D printers, robotics, water precision ag 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.”

Fittingly, the University of Arizona has a permanent display of some vintage tractors and implements just steps from the field where the DOT demonstration took place, and as the DOT came out on the field, it passed those old machines, making Saik and I think of the first car on that street full of horses that Beaujot talked about.

“For me this is a little bit like a dream come true,” Beaujot told the crowd. “Five years ago I had a dream about how we might change agriculture, and today we’re in the early commercialization phase of a brand new direction.”

About the author

Comments

explore

Stories from our other publications