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Been there, tried that

Back in 1980 I was working on a system to operate a farm tractor without a person being on board (see “Robo crop,” March issue, page 9). I worked with Texas Instruments to develop the electronics. They were amazed at the idea and set a division of engineers to investigate the system.

The unit would be installed on a farm tractor to steer and to operate the tools behind it. It would be programmed to the field it was in and locked to the satellites. At that time we did not have enough of them up there so TI said they could not guarantee a straight line of operation across a 1-mile field holding a cross of less than 12 in error. The radar system to sense a cow, horse or a child would shut the tractor down for 5 min., and if the intruder was gone, it would then continue.

The unit was to cost around $20,000 and would replace a hired man. It wouldn't get tired and could work 24 hrs. a day. Should the unit shut down, a beeper would go off in the farmer's pocket telling him he needed to attend to the tractor.

My idea started back in the 1970s as it became harder to find farm help at the wages being paid. The Elwood Manufacturing Field Control would pay for itself in 2 yrs. Didn't sleep, didn't stop. The reason we did not finish the product back then was due to the satellite control which had not been projected. The other system we investigated was a laser beam in the corner of the field and an onboard computer to control the unit. This proved at that time to be too cumbersome.

Yes, been there, done that. These guy are just getting into something we were working with a long time ago.

Donald Jones
former owner of Elwood Manufacturing Co. Inc.
Blue Eye, MO

Editor's note: Many inventors and companies have explored the potential of driverless tractors over the years. In researching our article, we found information about driverless and self-steering tractors that dated all the way back to the 1950s. Barret Electric, for example, introduced a crude driverless tractor for factory and warehouse use in 1953. That tractor, called the Automated Guide Vehicle (AGV), followed a guide wire imbedded in the factory floor. In 1986, Kone Sampo Ltd., a Finnish company, developed a tracked driverless farm tractor called the Module, which was guided by a video-assist remote control and a joystick. In 1993, the company added a fully automated navigation system based on a computer field map and obstacle-detecting sonar.

No value added

Reader August E. Goettl, Mankato, MN, sent us two news stories about Phenix Manufacturing of Mankato, which we listed as a “new/unproven/mixed” value-added venture in our story “High hopes, high risks” (February issue, page 54).

A story from the Mankato Free Press, published March 10, says that Phenix Manufacturing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on February 26, one day before its assets were to be sold at a county sheriff's sale. According to the story, lenders have claimed that Phenix has defaulted on loans and several businesses have claimed that the company hasn't paid them for goods and services.

Goettl comments: “This company has had big problems from the beginning.”

Driverless FIN

Well now we have driverless tractors.

Does this go with the FARMERLESS farms?

We are heading there quickly.

Isn't life grand.

Now all we need are WRITERLESS magazines!!!!

Ray & Tammy Woten
via e-mail


Our story about the new Case IH 5850 chisel plow (“Iron efficiency,” Mid-February issue, page 76) gave incorrect prices for the floating hitches that can be added to the plows. The correct price range for the floating hitches with caster wheels is $6,693 to $9,312.

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