OLD MACDONALD HAS A NEW AUTONOMOUS TRACTOR


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Self-driving vehicles aren’t confined to roadways. They’re making their way into farm fields to make growing crops more efficient with less human labor.
Companies such as Case, CNH, and Kubota, among others, are fielding tractors that can identify and automatically attach themselves to specific pieces of equipment; follow pre-mapped paths to designated fields; and drive in prescribed patterns over acreage to plow, plant, fertilize, and harvest.
Off-road commercial vehicles generally haul heavier loads for longer times over rougher terrains than cars and pickup trucks. To extend work time and heft, the Autonomous Tractor Corp. has coupled a traditional tractor engine to a generator that sends power to an electric motor at each of a tractor’s four wheels.
The arrangement cuts fuel costs by 30 percent while extending the vehicle’s life fivefold before a replacement or major rebuild is needed, the company says.
Farmers can monitor their self-driving machines remotely through GPS software and onboard cameras; tractor-specific software also lets operators check fuel levels and other vital signs on their computers or mobiles.
When an autonomous tractor encounters an obstacle – a fallen tree, for example – it can send an audio alert to the farmer’s tablet or smartphone. The farmer can then remotely draw a path for the tractor around the obstacle.
If something like a wandering cow crosses in front of the tractor, it will pause until the obstacle has moved on, then resume its pre-programmed routine.
TRENDPOST: Self-driving tractors can handle routine fieldwork 24 hours a day, not only giving farmers their time back to handle work that can’t be automated but also rushing a harvest if heavy weather is closing in.
Combining smart, self-driving tractors working the fields with drones monitoring crop health, soil moisture, and other factors will define the future of commodity-crop farming in a world in which more people have to be fed with more crops grown on less land by fewer people.

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