Everyone has been so caught up in the domestic use of self-driving cars that it has been easy to overlook that mechanical autonomy has long been sought and used in various industries for better part of the last century. The automated assembly line, for one, has vastly improved output efficiency in many industries.
And while folks are scrambling over the safety and practicality of an autonomous personal vehicle, the agricultural industry has been working towards building a better tractor: one that does not require a farmer at all.
At this week’s annual Farm Progress Show, in Boone, Iowa, a company has revealed an autonomous tractor. Case IH is the agricultural-machinery unit of CNH Industrial. CNH is calling this machine the Autonomous Concept Vehicle and, sure enough, it has no cab for an operator. Instead of a driver’s seat, of course, the machine is fully equipped with radar, camera, and GPS device that will allow farmers to remotely monitor the planting and harvesting of craps via tablet computer app, explains CNH Brand President Andreas Klauser.
This may be a “concept” vehicle, but it is only one of many ideas that are piquing great interest from the likes of Case, Deere & Co, and Agco Corp who have been tapped into technological innovation in farming practices for decades. And now there is a dramatically growing interest in using big data analysis, satellite imaging, and drones to aid in improving the efficiency of agricultural practices everywhere.
Of course, “auto-steering” and other telematics are already being used on tractors currently in the field today. But autonomous technology simply takes this progress to the next step.
Unfortunately, this is just a concept; and becoming a reality may be more difficult than just developing new technology. The United States Department of Justice said, on Wednesday, that they are suing Deere & Co in order to stop the company from purchasing another business that, the DoJ argues, would eliminate competition in a young and still developing segment of farming known as “high-speed planting.”
Autonomy would only add to this complication.
On the other hand, this concept adds entirely new complications too. For example, while technology like this would potentially reduce the need for human gut instinct in some ways, the threat of major corporations gathering—and using the data—could drastically affect small farms and farmers. Of course, it is going to take at least another three years before any prototype could eve be available commercially, so perhaps there is still time for remedy.