GROWERS may see autonomous technologies sooner than they think with investments by universities, machinery companies and funding bodies converging.
University of Southern Queensland (USQ) National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) director Professor Craig Baillie has been conducting research into how autonomous and semi-autonomous machinery can best be introduced to agriculture.
Professor Baillie believes Australia is an attractive market for companies to design and test new technologies. He said this was due to the combination of challenging farming conditions and innovative farmers.
“Australian farmers are renowned for being on the leading edge of innovation” he said.
Australian farmers are renowned for being on the leading edge of innovation
Who’s in front?
Professor Baillie said that autonomous tractor base technology like auto steer, machine optimisation and sensors were already in use on-farm.
He said all six major international tractor manufacturers had developed key technologies that provided a ‘pathway to autonomy’.
Professor Baillie said that of the six major manufacturers, John Deere and CNH, (parent company to Case-IH and New Holland) seemed to be slightly ahead of the pack, having released operational concept vehicles.
However, he said this did not mean that Agco, Claas, Same Deutz-Fahr and Kubota were not making progress. He said each of these companies were concentrating on bringing these technologies to market and were only behind by the slimmest of margins.
Professor Baillie predicts that the third party “bolt-on” technology providers such as ASI Solutions (ASI) and Precision Makers will lead the way, similar to how Beeline Technologies led the way in GPS auto steer.
Experience with GPS autosteer indicates that third party suppliers of autonomous technology are more likely to release product before the major tractor manufacturers.
However, this assumes there will be an absence of coordinated industry engagement which to date has not been the case.
ASI has been working in partnership with John Deere as well as CNH.
Meanwhile Precision Makers have already equipped a Fendt tractor in Australia for autonomous commercial operations.
However, according to Prof Baillie’s research early adopters of aftermarket solutions may be potentially exposed to compatibility issues.
This is more likely to be avoided when when third parties are aware of manufacturers technology and development cycles. The report indicates that if companies can work together or be coordinated then a more robust retrofit product may be possible.
This provides an additional option for Australian agricultural industries to access autonomous tractor technology notwithstanding the potential for exposure to developmental risks which would need to be determined.
Farmers are also backing their own future. Grower levy investment of over over $2.3m has been made in the Future Farms program.
The program is an initiative of Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) and Cotton Research Development Corporation (CRDC) and their research partners.