Trimble looks beyond the headlands in the future

When it comes to spraying the Trimble is working on systems that will decide what fields should be sprayed by looking at the crops growth stage and weather conditions.  |  Horsch photo

Autonomous operations stretch past the fields’ edges and work with whole-farm operational logistics

Horsch and Trimble are working together on autonomous-agricultural robots.

Phillip Horsch, owner of Horsch, tweeted a video of a robot pulling a planter during its spring testing regime, the first of three robotic prototypes the company plans to test this year.

The robot in Horsch’s video is equipped with Trimble technology, and is a cab-less, two-tracked tractor called the Robo.

In the video the Robo is shown hitched to a tender truck as it’s led to a field, which it plants autonomously.

Phillip Horsch said in a tweet the Robo’s autonomous procedures, including headlands turns, are working well.

“Safety regulations are too tight yet for a fully autonomous use. So at the moment one person has to stay on the field within 600 metre distance to watch. To solve this safety topic we have to go a long way yet,” Horsch said.

Horsch’s aggressive shift toward autonomous operations makes use of Trimble’s guidance systems, path planning and in-field process automation.

Meiko Martin, product management of Trimble Autonomous Solutions, said Horsch is working on the guidance of autonomous farm machinery, while Trimble has already made many agricultural jobs and procedures autonomous with its line-up of control and sensing technology.

“With the partnership it’s a way of combining both areas. The application control as well as the driving of the vehicle, and going in different steps,” Martin said.

“It’s not just a technology journey we are on, but also a user journey. We have to take the farmers along on that journey as well, so they trust these systems, and so they see the value in further automation. You also have to gain the trust of the future users of these technologies.”

Phillip Horsch says fully autonomous operations without any supervision are still a ways off, but operators are no longer needed. | Horsch photo

He said Trimble and Horsch have a longstanding development relationship on the application and guidance fronts and that collaboration between OEMs and technology providers will become increasingly important as the industry moves toward automated operations.

Jim Chambers, vice-president and general manager of Trimble Ag, said the company’s move toward autonomy will be gradual.

“Our focus from a customer and market perspective is evolving to much more of (a focus on) specific operational workflows. So if you think of the farm, you can think of an operational workflow as tilling, planting, fertilizing, spraying, harvesting. There are other workflows, but those are good examples,” he said.

Chambers said Trimble is focusing on all of the actions in each of these workflows that need to come together before they can be automated.

Horsch Robo was demonstrated at a recent release. | Horsch photo

For instance, when it comes to spraying the company is working on systems that will decide what fields should be sprayed by looking at the crops’ growth stage and weather conditions.

These system will also help organize the logistics of getting all the equipment and product tenders to the field at the right time.

“We’re really trying to understand all of those steps in that workflow and where the greatest paying points are for autonomy, or for the customer, and then figuring out which steps should be automated first, or need to be solved first. So that ultimately, you could have the entire sprayer workflow automated,” Chambers said.

He said Trimble’s overall agricultural strategy has two components. The first is to work with many OEMs around the world to help them offer factory-fit equipment that can automate agricultural workflows. The second is to continue to work though its dealer channels to help retrofit agricultural equipment.

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