Driverless Tractor May Debut In Valley

Inside Dakota Ag

Coming to Red River Valley farms this fall -- a driverless tractor called "Spirit."

Published on: May 1, 2012

You know how they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words?

Well, check out the picture of the driverless tractor model called “Spirit” that is being built for use in the Red River Valley next fall, and I don’t have to write another word.

The Autonomous Tractor Corporation, Fargo, N.D., will have two such tractors – one on display and one working in the demonstration field -- at the Big Iron farm show in West Fargo, N.D., Sept. 11-13, says Terry Anderson, the inventor and entrepreneur behind the tractor.

A computer generated image shows what the new driverless Spirit tractor will look like in the field.
A computer generated image shows what the new driverless Spirit tractor will look like in the field.

The tractors are currently being built in the Twin Cities, but Anderson says he will put the first production plant in the Fargo area. Anderson’s family is from the Greenbush, Minn., and Hatton, N.D., areas.

Several farmers have already purchased ATC driverless tractors and 25 will be made in the first year of production, he says. At about 300 horsepower, the tractor will be used to do tillage and can be programmed to follow another tractor or to work independently.

“It will be like a helping hand,” he says.

The tracked tractor is 8 ½ feet wide and built like a locomotive. It has an electric-diesel drive system. Two Cummings diesel engines generate electricity to motor drives on the wheels.

A laser system, much like the one used by the military to paint targets and guide rockets, will guide the tractor. It more accurate than GPS and costs less than GPS, Anderson says.

In fact, the whole tractor will cost less than conventional tractor, according to Anderson. He projects the price at about $500 per horsepower, or about half the price of many high horsepower conventional tractors.

The ATC tractor design is simple and easy to manufacture, Anderson says. The frame is made mostly made out of I-beams and square tubing and can be robotically cut, welded and painted. There is no drive train or transmission, and of course, no cab.

Think ATC’s Spirit driverless tractor is just pie-in-the-sky? An eccentric inventor’s dream?

Anderson holds dozens of patents and has started and sold seven companies. The last one reportedly sold for $1.8 billion.