Machinery

The future is here: autonomous tractor and spraying combo

Neil Lyon, June 8, 2017

SPRAY equipment specialist, Croplands, has teamed up with auto farming system provider, autonoTRAC, to produce a fully integrated driverless tractor and WEEDit spraying system for autonomous weed spraying.

Dalby Rural Supplies precision ag specialist, Jeremy Jones, and autonoTRAC founder and general manager, Luke Schelosky, with the fully integrated driverless tractor and WEEDit spraying system.

The combination Phantom Drive and WEEDit system allows a tractor and sprayer to operate across pre-mapped paddocks without a driver.

A demonstration of the new technology at the Farmfest field days on Queensland’s Darling Downs this week featured a New Holland T7200 tractor with Phantom auto drive operating a 12-metre WEEDit weed-detecting spot sprayer.

Short video of demonstration below:

 

AutonoTRAC founder and general manager, Luke Schelosky, Bendigo, said the Phantom Drive could be fitted to a range of different tractor brands and models, as long as they had CVT (continuous variable transmission).

Autonomous farming future

Mr Schelosky said there was growing demand for autonomous farming systems that reduced labour and provided more efficient input applications.

He said farmers were looking to take the next step from operator-monitored automatic steering systems to fully automated, driverless farming platforms.

“The idea of the Phantom Drive is we control not only the steering and speed but are also monitoring the sprayer, the environment through a weather station on the roof array, and the tractor itself,” he said.

The collision avoidance laser sensor fitted to the front of the tractor.

“It also has a collision avoidance system at the front so if it encounters an immovable object, the tractor detects it and will automatically stop and not keep going until the object has been removed. That is distinct from known objects that we pre-mark in the field through pre-mapping.”

Mr Schelosky said the system could be monitored remotely from any mobile device.

“You can look at the map to see where the tractor is; you can look at the status of the tractor and the sprayer status,” he said.

“It is ‘set and forget’. Once it gets going it monitors itself. If it finds an issue it sends a message to up to three mobile phones. Whilever it is happy, you just let it do its job.”

Dalby Rural Supplies precision ag specialist, Jeremy Jones, said an important part of the design was that the auto system could be fitted to an existing platform, such as a tractor that farmers were already using on their farm for other jobs.

“They can use the tractor for following a chaser bin and doing their planting, then when it comes to WEEDit spraying, wheel track renovation or pulling a land roller, they can hop out of the cabin, press a button and, if they have the path planning done, the tractor does the work itself,” he said.

Perfect fit with spraying

Mr Jones said an autonomous drive system fitted perfectly with straightforward, continuous movement tasks such as spraying.

“The advantages are that, with the WEEDit it will do a better job the slower it goes. It will target smaller weeds and get bigger rates on the plant when it is spraying at slower speeds,” he said.

“Although this system can spray at the same speed you normally do, it can do it much slower and allow you to do the job when you have other things to do. It is about time management. That is the big advantage.

“For people on bigger properties that are maybe considering a 36-metre trailed unit, instead you can go with a 12-metre unit system and spray at the same speed, but you are not tying up labour.

GPS antennas and autonomous status beacons on the tractor cab roof.

“Essentially you can let it run for half a day, then all you need to do is top up the tanks and let it go again.”

Mr Jones said the auto system removed the need for an operator and lowered the risk of human error.

“The guy that usually sits in the seat basically uses autosteer to run to the end of a row, and his job is to then turn the tractor, get it back on the next run and engage the autosteer, then continue to sit there and wait. With the autonomous system, it does the job itself,” he said.

“The system that is available would monitor the tractor and spraying system better than a back-packer ever would.”

Mr Jones said while adapting the system to ground engaging operations such as planting and tillage was more complicated, he could see the technology expanding to such systems and being adopted by farmers “down the track”.

“There will be many systems that come out with autonomous steering, but the real winner will be who can integrate the implement on the back of the machine,” he said.

The Phantom Drive is commercially available through selected Croplands WEEDit dealers.

“If someone is just looking at getting into the 12-metre WEEDit sprayer to fit onto it, it will be around $135,000-$140,000, depending on options. The steering system itself will be $126,500 plus GST,” Mr Jones said.

“If you look at the savings in costs and labour, it won’t take a lot of time to recoup if you take advantage of the WEEDit operating for longer hours.”

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