CNH Industrial's technology arm, Raven Applied Technology, has been giving farmers, custom harvesters (working multiple combines and grain cart/tractor systems) and dealers closer looks at its OMNiDRIVE autonomous harvest application. The driverless tractor-grain cart app is being built for both CNH ag equipment brands, New Holland (T8 series tractors) and Case-IH (Magnum tractor series).
Raven and New Holland have not released pricing or a date the software and hardware package will be available.
DTN/Progressive Farmer spoke recently with Raven and New Holland about advances in OMNiDRIVE. Software is being developed around grain crops, livestock applications, specialty crops and even sugar cane across several regions--the Midwest, South and Great Plains.
On the call with DTN/Progressive Farmer was Ben Sees, manager of customer experience for Raven Applied Technology, and Ben Sheldon, segment lead for technology, New Holland North America. Here is what they had to say:
DTN/Progressive Farmer: Tell us about the technology you have been demonstrating.
Sees: There is technology, hardware, on both the tractor and the combine. The operator in the combine has ultimate control over the tractor through a very simple user interface, essentially a (Windows-based) tablet in the combine. (The operator) can see the field boundary, where the tractor is, where the combine is with respect to the tractor, and vice versa. When he is ready, he can call that tractor over and transfer grain on the go, no one in the tractor. The tractor has advanced perception technology, cameras and a radar system that's checking to make sure that tractor is in a safe position to move. We want to make sure there's no one in front of the tractor or in between the wheels or behind the tractor, between the tractor and the grain cart. Once that tractor goes through that safety check, then it is free to start its initiation (process).
DTN/Progressive Farmer: How does the tractor/grain cart move to the combine?
Sees: We've developed path planning software where the combine operator can tell the tractor, "Hey, I want you to start that sync now. But I want you to meet me closer to the edge of the field, where I'm turning around." Or, it can say, "I want you to sync with me right now," and that tractor will take a dynamic path plan to get to that combine the most efficient way.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: What is dynamic path planning?
Sees: That tractor knows where the field boundaries are, where there are obstacles. It knows where the combine is. And it knows where it needs to sync (with the combine). That is dynamic path planning, where it syncs it up to the (combine) operator. Once he's done transferring that grain, he can send (the tractor and grain cart) to a staging point. When he's ready to transfer again, he can simply call the tractor over. The other thing you can do is send it to an unloading point.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: Can the grain cart automatically unload at the unloading location.
Sees: It doesn't auto-unload at this point -- that that is something that we want to develop in the future.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: We've talked to a number of farmers about autonomy. There are autonomous tillage systems and the Case-IH Trident spreader for example. Those are farmers trying to figure out how autonomy would best fit into their operations. The idea of a grain cart and tractor solution for harvest seems to be one winning the most interest -- especially managers finding it difficult to hire seasonal drivers.
Sees: (CNH Industrial's Raven's) OMNiDRIVE is really our flagship autonomous program. And this is really where we're learning a lot of the things that we need to know for how we engage with farmers, engage with testers. Autonomy is hard. We can program and develop solutions for 90% of the major farm operations, but it's that last 10% that is really, really difficult -- corners, slowing for a ditch or a washout, going around an obstacle that isn't planned. I can put my 16-year-old son in a cab of a tractor and a grain cart. There are certain things that he knows intuitively to do with that system in order for it to not bounce him out of the seat or keep that system safe. All these things we want to do, and we need to do, but those are the things with the most challenges.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: What crops have you tested OMNiDRIVE in?
Sees: We've tested this in wheat, we've tested in other small grains, we've tested in soybeans, corn. This system hasn't been out there all that long. But through testing and through partnerships with farmers, with (more) validation, we will get more variety and (a broader) crop spectrum.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: Where do you think the best opportunities are for autonomous systems?
Ben Sheldon: We treat autonomy like a learning system. Without some sort of learning system along the lines of neural networks, machine learning, it isn't really the full autonomous capability that it could be. So, we think, what were some of the first jobs you learned? Look at the cash crops. The first things that come up are going to be tillage applications, grain cart applications. We get into that livestock and dairy segment, what were some of the first operations that you did? Was it pulling a cart behind a silage chopper? Was it mixing rations? In the specialty (crop) segment, was it (removing weeds) from vegetable rows? That's how we've framed it up. We need to focus the opportunity on the New Holland brand for the most immediate opportunities in their respective segments.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: What about servicing this equipment; the dealer component?
Sheldon: It is going to be pretty reflective of how we support the technology products we offer today through our dealerships. It's going to be at a different scale. This is the most advanced technology stack that we've ever had. We're (meeting) with some key stakeholders within the New Holland dealer network to understand how this could change their business model, how this can change their support model, how this can change the overall headcount in their dealership. And then once we establish a few goalposts that we all agree (New Holland/Raven) needs to support this successfully through the dealership ... there's going to be a certification and training pathway available through New Holland and Raven to make sure that they're up to speed on it.
DTN/Progressive Farmer: So, in general, out in the farming world, why autonomy? What does autonomy bring to production agriculture, as opposed to automation, where you're automating certain tasks?
Sees: It's not about autonomy. It's not about automation. It's about efficiency. We're giving farmers and ag retailers the tools to gain efficiency in their operation. Obviously, automation creates a tremendous amount of efficiency. Autonomy creates even more. You can reallocate labor to something (of) more value. There are always ways for us to increase that efficiency. And that's, that's really where we're at at this point.
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @DMillerPF
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