Robot Herd

Internet-based control and “swarms” of robotic vehicles are closer than you think.

By Tharran E. Gaines

Robotic tractors, autonomous vehicles and a concept known as the “[Industrial] Internet of Things” have been gaining a lot of attention lately, both in the ag media and at farm shows. Those innovations are, however, nothing new at AGCO.

Rendering of robotic farm equipment working.

Rendering of robotic farm equipment working.

According to Matt Rushing, vice president, global product line, Fuse,® AGCO has already been recognized with a 2016 Manufacturing Leadership Award in the “Internet of Things” category for its use of Google Glass on the manufacturing production floor.

“The use of tools like smartwatches, ring scanners, tablets and Google Glass at the Jackson Operations in Jackson, Minn.,” says Rushing, “allows the plant to focus on quality, safety, productivity and, in the end, happy customers.

“As for robotic tractors,” he continues, “AGCO introduced the Fendt® GuideConnect system at the 2011 Agritechnica show in Germany. Using RTK-GPS satellite positioning and advanced machine-to-machine communication, GuideConnect can enable a second tractor to run autonomously alongside an operator-controlled guide tractor, in effect, doubling the working width per operator hour.”

While such technology is still limited by market demand and legislation, Rushing says AGCO is still leading the industry with internet-based technology, which includes AgCommand,® AGCO’s pioneering telemetry and fleet management tool. Powering AGCO’s Fuse® Connected Services, AgCommand helps minimize downtime and allows the customer to run the operation more efficiently by determining when machines are idle, stopped or in need of service.

Future innovations are in the works as well, says Rushing. For instance, Fendt is already working with Ulm University of Applied Sciences in Germany, on a concept known as MARS—Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms. Instead of one or two large robotic tractors, a farmer would use five, 10 or even 100 small MARS units, each equipped with its own integrated planting unit, to collaborate in an autonomous and efficient way.

Due to their small size and sustainability, each lightweight unit could manage the operation on a seed-by-seed basis. The farmer or service provider, in turn, would only need to do the planning and manage the transportation logistics of the robot fleet.

“We believe full autonomy is at least several years out, since a lot of things must happen in the development of the technology and infrastructure required, and on the legal/legislation front, before customers and society are comfortable with the concept,” Rushing relates. “We have already implemented and integrated incremental, supervised autonomy on our machines via Auto-Guide™ guidance; sensor-assisted intelligence, including yield monitoring and automatic engine protection; and preprogrammed operational logic, which includes seed and fertilizer prescription mapping.

“In the meantime, large autonomous machines and ‘swarms’ of smaller machines are being reviewed as potential parts of our strategy for the future. We’re already at a point where supervised automation is the norm. Now, we’re moving toward more fully automated products and systems.”

For more information on AGCO’s Fuse technology products and services like AgCommand, see your AGCO brand dealer or log onto AGCOcorp.com/Fuse.