VIDEO: Alta. farmer’s autonomous tractor working well

Brian Tischler demonstrates how he’s able to drive his tractor autonomously using software on a laptop.  |  Jeremy Simes photo

Brian Tischler, who demonstrated his technology at canolaPALOOZA in Lacombe in late June, says safety is crucial

LACOMBE, Alta. — Brian Tischler stands in front of a moving tractor. Nobody is in the driver’s seat, but the machine stops. It senses he’s there.

He then decides to get out of the tractor’s way. The machine notices he’s no longer there and carries on with business, moving forward.

“We went around this field three or four times already and it’s working really, really well,” he said of his tractor.

Tischler was demonstrating the autonomous machine for the first time in Lacombe, Alta. at canolaPALOOZA in late June.

It’s controlled much like a remote-controlled car. Using the AgOpenGPS program on a tablet or computer, the software can control auto-steer and tilt, as well as functions to turn the seeder or sprayer on and off.

Farmers can use the program with many existing GPS systems. It connects with what’s called an arduino, essentially a mini controller, over wireless technology, communicating GPS co-ordinates and speed.

As well, the machine is equipped with LIDAR (light detection and ranging), meaning it automatically stops if it notices an obstacle or person in front of it. As well, if all the signals, like ones that control steering or braking, aren’t transmitting to the tractor, it automatically stops.

“The number one thing is safety because the thing could kill you immediately,” Tischler said.

Even though it’s fairly safe, he said there are still a few kinks that make autonomous technology challenging.

For example, when he was testing his tractor autonomously on 3,000 acres on his farm near Mannville, Alta., it couldn’t spot things like deer antlers, which can be problematic. As well, it couldn’t turn at the same speed or go down a side hill when it was raining.

“It’s cool 99.9 percent of the time, where we just sit in the cab and let it do its job,” he said. “That 0.1 percent, however, where it’s not working as well as it should, is really important. It goes back to safety.”

During his demonstration, he said many farmers weren’t sure what to ask because the technology is new and seems foreign.

“There’s a lot of awe because it’s so freaky,” he said.

The AgOpenGPS software is free to install. Tischler said he wants to expand the community, adding that many people are now using it. Some of them are also answering other people’s questions about it online on Combine Forum.

“I now don’t have to answer everything as that community grows and gains that understanding and experience,” he said. “We’re all still learning.”

He said it’s exciting to see other people use the technology, even if they only just want to make a tailgate open and close.

“It’s really cool to see that because it shows more people are interested,” he said.

AgOpenGPS can be downloaded from GitHub at

Video tutorials on the program can also be found on Tischler’s YouTube channel at

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