While farmers have been waiting impatiently for equipment designers to commercialize the driverless tractor, Prairie inventor and entrepreneur Norbert Beaujot has found a way to ditch the tractor altogether.
And he’s rolling it out for the first time in July 18 to 20 at Ag in Motion (AIM), Western Canada’s outdoor farm show now in its third season.
“Everyone else is working on adapting the tractor technology to be autonomous, where this takes a grassroots look at it and says, why do we need a tractor?” says Beaujot, president and founder of SeedMaster, which has been developing the concept over the past three years through sister company Dot Technology Corp.
Not only does the DOT autonomous field implement platform eliminate the need for the hefty drawing power of a four-wheel-drive tractor, it eliminates axles, wheels and hitches on most field implements by essentially turning them into self-propelled units.
“The main reason I wanted to avoid having a tractor is if you take a 500-horsepower tractor and you drive it through the field, between 20 per cent and a third of its power requirement is to move itself. It has to have all the weights on it for the traction to pull whatever is behind,” Beaujot said in a recent interview.
“In this case, the weight of the implement and weight of the grain, or seed or fertilizer — whatever you put into it — satisfies the traction requirement.”
It takes only seconds for the U-shaped ‘prime mover’ operating on four independent hydrostatic wheels to sidle up to a specially designed implement such as seeder, sprayer or grain cart and hydraulically lift it onto its platform.
By carrying the implement instead of pulling it, it provides the same mobility — while being ‘driven’ remotely.
Beaujot says it potentially reduces the capital costs farmers have tied up in equipment, in addition to offering double-digit cuts in the cost of fuel and labour.
“I suspect that we would be looking at a 20 to 30 per cent saving per foot of implement,” he said.
The autonomous platform can be controlled by a remote operator or programmed through GPS with a ‘flight plan’ for the field or part of the field. The unit shuts itself off if it deviates from its programmed path or if it encounters obstacles. The operator can monitor and adjust the programming for several units operating simultaneously through a mobile device.
The unit is powered by a 160-hp Cummins diesel engine, which Beaujot said is more than adequate for operating a 30-foot seeder at speeds up to six m.p.h.
The company plans to conduct field tests throughout 2017 and make the first units available to a select number of farmers in 2018.
Full commercialization will follow. It also plans to make the platform accessible to all implement manufacturers for development of DOT Ready implements.
Better and safer
Beaujot has seen the trends to larger farms continue on the Prairies, which has coincided with fewer experienced operators available to do the work. He said this technology is part of the solution.
“I am convinced that if we put side by side any operator and a machine like this that is properly set up and you run them both for 17 hours, like farmers try to do at seeding time, that it will not only operate better and safer, but it will do a better job.”
The DOT autonomous field implement platform will be featured in live demonstrations at 2:45 p.m. daily at the AIM show site located 15 minutes north of Saskatoon on Highway 16.
It’s just one of many new innovations and hundreds of exhibits at this 325-acre site showcasing new developments in crop or livestock technology, equipment and agribusiness services.
Other innovations at AIM
Other new innovations being launched include:
- Michelin North America’s EvoBIB tire, a ‘two in one tire’ that adapts its profile and footprint according to the farmer’s requirements. At ultra-low pressures, the contact patch increases to reduce soil compaction, while enabling the power transmission to be increased. At higher pressures, the tire transforms so that only the central continuous band grips the road, giving a smoother vibration-free ride, fuel savings and improved safety.
- Farmers Edge will showcase its FarmCommand Scouting system — an app-based tool for monitoring and addressing field conditions. It is the first mobile scouting app that’s integrated with the FarmCommand, giving growers an integrated and seamless experience. It is also launching Corn Manager and its Next-Gen FarmCommand farm management tool.
- In the livestock sector, there is Libra TMR by AgriMatics, a tablet-based livestock ration weighing and data management system. It measures the exact weight of ingredients going into a feed mixer, tracks and measures what has been fed to each pen and allows users to export data from the app through email.
- Northern Strands Co. Inc. is launching its Grain Bin Fall Protection system, which is designed to protect a worker from a fall while inspecting or repairing a bin.
- PolyWest will introduce Safe-Fill, designed to prevent cross-contamination between water fill stations and the user’s tank.
- Agroliquid is releasing the Flavanol Polymer Technology, which is designed to optimize a grower’s fertilizer investments by providing a product that doesn’t tie up in the soils. Virtually all of what is applied is taken up by the plant. An added benefit of this technology is that nutrients are protected and resist the losses that can happen when applied in stressful environments.
- DirectSpray Nozzle is introducing an innovative pressure washer attachment designed to quickly reach where a normal pressure washer nozzle can’t. You can change the nozzle from straight to 45, to 90 degrees on the fly. No tools are needed.