Over the Thanksgiving weekend WDAY/WDAZ TV, Fargo ND, broadcast a segment it shot last summer of Autonomous Tractor Corporation’s self-driving tractor. The tractor was shown running in a field near St. Michael, MN, where tests are run.
Terry Anderson, company VP and the tractor’s inventor, was interviewed for the segment, saying the technology will revolutionize a farming industry they say hasn't had much innovation in the last 80 years.
"The most significant thing we've done is we had to come up with a way to replace the driver," Autonomous Tractor Corporation Vice President Terry Anderson said during the interview with reporter Aaron Burner.
The technology to do it? Laser radio positioning, artificial intelligence, cameras and sonar so sensitive the tractor can hear a human heartbeat and stop.
"You take the tractor out to the field and you train it just like a hired hand. You don't have any programming to do," Anderson said.
Using the camera, farmers can see what's going on and if something goes wrong, the tractor will stop and send a video and description of the problem.
Farm Industry News first covered the tractor, named Spirit, back in Fall 2012, when the prototype had just been introduced at the Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo, ND. Read the full story.
The tractor uses the frame of a 1990 John Deere 8760, which was converted to diesel electric hybrid. As we reported in August, the company now sells a diesel-electric powertrain replacement package called eDrive that lets you turn your own tractor into a diesel-electric hybrid.
Once in place, the electric drivetrain becomes the enabling technology that will make the tractor capable of autonomous control, Anderson says.
The company sold one of the first of these drivetrain packages last month to FarmilyFarms Group, a large farm business consulting group headquartered near St. Louis, Mo. The beta version of the automated system will start shipping next year, the company says.