More than 10 years ago, we ran our first article about a robotic tractor designed by John Deere for orchard spraying. The drone-like model was strictly experimental and had no cab, seat or steering wheel. Today, the first robotic systems designed for corn and soybean production have arrived.
One system, created by planter and grain cart manufacturer Kinze, does not resemble the original concept tractors. Instead, Kinze developed an add-on system for a tractor and combine. The company pulled off-the-shelf technology and paired it with powerful computers and sophisticated software to develop a system that can be added to tractors and combines.
The Kinze system will be sold as a kit and will be available for use with different brands of tractors. The first farmer tests are being conducted with a John Deere tractor model.
A second robotic system was displayed at the Big Iron Show in Fargo, ND. The Spirit autonomous tractor is a rectangular robotic tractor with no cab. It is designed to be safe, efficient and reliable. Its developer Terry Anderson plans to build more of these tractors next year for testing.
What’s the reaction of farmers to a robotic tractor? An Illinois farmer who spent three days with the Kinze system at harvest was impressed. “I don’t mean to be anti-human, but this was better than a human,” he said. It was always in the right spot, not at the wrong end of the field. Nor did it spill grain.
Given such sentiments, is a robot in your future?
Note: This is Karen McMahon's editor's letter to the readers from the November issue of Farm Industry News magazine