DRIVERLESS is here, with the launch of the autonoTRAC PhantomDrive autonomous technology.
The PhantomDrive was demonstrated by distributor Croplands at Commonwealth Bank AgQuip today and will continue to be on-site for the remainder of AgQuip.
The driverless system was seen operating in a small paddock with trees to navigate around.
Luke Schelosky general manager and founder of autonoTRAC said that the retrofit autonomous system is the product of a ground-up approach.
Mr Schelosky said that it was the feedback from farmers themselves that got him excited about autonomous tractors.
“There is angst finding labour, they spend a lot of time on tractors, there is fatigue and there are safety issues.
The research and development was carried out primarily in the Darling Downs of Queensland over the last three years.
”We started with other tractor models then moved up to the 200 horsepower New Holland tractor”.
”This particular tractor has been tested in around ten different locations for testing purposes.”
While Case IH and New Holland have revealed autonomous concept vehicles, the PhantomDrive is available now through Croplands.
Mr Schelosky said the PhantomDrive is suitable for all tractors with continuously variable transmission (CVT).
“You don’t want to have manual change of gears with this system,” he said.
“It fits to existing tramlines and GPS infrastructure and it integrates with sprayer systems and in the future with other types of implements”
“Controlling your tractor by smartphone, tablet or computer is now possible,” he said.
The demonstration vehicle at AgQuip was an integration of the PhantomDrive with Croplands WEEDit spot sprayer on a New Holland tractor.
“This will revolutionise farming by improving efficiency of herbicide application” he said.
Mr Schelosky said the system also has dedicated features to monitor the vehicle, including inbuilt weather station capabilities for monitoring environmental conditions at the site of application.
The system will pause operation if the set weather parameters are exceeded, he said.
“It also monitors critical tractor functions and has integrated cameras that feed live images at any time on request to the operator,” said Mr Schelosky.
Mr Schelosky says there are occurrences where operators fall asleep during spraying and drive the tractor into a ditch or a tree causing significant damage and loss of productivity, also putting the operator at risk.
“We understood an autonomous tractor by itself is a novelty so we provide a truly integrated system that not only gives excellent autonomous performance but also monitors operations and works in conjunction with the implement,” he said.
The weather station, SMS warning system for tractor and implement, tyre pressure/temperature monitoring and the ability to successfully steer around obstacles were all critical in making the system a success according to Mr Schelosky.
“The PhantomDrive also incorporates a collision avoidance function, to eliminate any accidents on farm with unexpected obstacles such as people, animals or foreign objects which may come in the path of the tractor,” he said.
The Croplands WEEDit platform is integrated in the demonstration tractor.
Jeremy Rennick regional manager for Croplands said he was heavily involved in the project.
“Making the WEEDit autonomous was the next logical step for us with this product as we see many varied farms trying to get more efficiency into their operation.”
The WEEDit sensors detect weeds by recognising the active chlorophyll present in all living plants.
A signal is sent to activate the correct nozzle as it passes over the target weed.
Mr Rennick said this minimised the amount of herbicide applied to bare ground.
“Croplands have engineered spray systems that both maximise the efficiency of the WEEDit sensors, and withstand the rigours of Australian broadacre conditions,” he said.
“Farmers particularly like the idea of it being mounted to an existing tractor, making the unit more versatile for the owner as it can be used for other jobs when not being used as a spot sprayer.”
“Automation in the manufacturing industry with controlled environments has been common for decades, so it is very exciting to see farmers taking up this opportunity in agriculture now that conditions can be monitored and technology allows efficient communications to the operator who may be many kilometres away” he said.
“These issues have now been addressed with an affordable solution using the PhantomDrive by autonoTRAC”, he said.