At the end of July, Kinze Mfg., Williamsburg, Iowa, rolled out its autonomous row crop technology by showing dealers a driverless tractor pulling a grain cart. The combine operator signaled the tractor to come to the combine for unloading. When the unloading was complete, the driverless tractor and grain cart returned to a "staging" area.
Now, Kinze has announced the same technology applied to planting. "Many farmers already use GPS technology to map their fields," says Brian McKown, Kinze chief operating officer. "The autonomous planting system uses those maps to figure out how to plant a field. Field boundaries, no-plant zones, such as waterways, are programmed into the autonomous system and it maps out how to plant the field.
McKown says the system knows when to stop, raise the planter, make the turn, lower the planter, and resume planting. The system will interact with other systems such a seed monitors. If a row is not planting, for example, the system will stop planting until attended to by an operator. If the tractor encounters an obstacle it also stops and the grower has to maneuver around unplanned obstacle.
"It's actually a marriage of technologies available today such as GPS, machine control such as auto steer and a series of sensors," says McKown. "Many cars now have sensors in the rear bumper to warn you are getting close to an object."
Kinze has been working on the automomy project for more than two years. "But it has been a close knit project. Very few people knew about it. We just recently brought the people on board who will figure out how to bring the system to market," explains McKown. He adds they do not yet have a specific time line for that.
Kinze will eventually market the technology to help growers increase productivity by allowing them to focus their time and attention elsewhere while performing cursory monitoring of the Kinze autonomous equipment, according to McKown.
The technology was originally developed in a laboratory setting using computer simulation. Kinze engineers partnered with JayBridge Robotics, a Cambridge, Mass., firm to bring the technology from the lab to the field, and to test and refine the work.