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Kinze Autonomy Project
Thinking outside the box is a quality that Kinze Manufacturing prides themselves on. It’s also a quality that is helping the company look to the future as they gear up for growth.
“Bringing firsts to the agriculture market is what Kinze Manufacturing has been doing for more than 45 years,” says Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, vice president and chief marketing officer at Kinze.
With the recent announcement of the Kinze Autonomy Project, the company is continuing that tradition with this innovative solution to increase productivity on the farm.
“We’re excited to introduce the first truly autonomous row crop solution in the world on this scale,” says Veatch. “This technology could be used to do a variety of tasks, including planting, nourishing, maintaining and harvesting crops.”
The project marries three existing technologies – GPS, automation, and sensing – to create a system that is designed to reduce the need for skilled labor by taking the human element out of the tractor cab.
Although similar autonomous technology has been used in other industries, like mining, construction and the military, since the 1990s, no row crop production manufacturer has offered a completely autonomous system.
“Simple forms of autonomy are used in rice production and orchard operations,” Veatch explains. “However, until now, no other manufacturer associated with row crop production has offered truly autonomous technology like this.”
Originally developed in a lab setting using computer simulation, Kinze engineers partnered with Jaybridge Robotics, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to bring the technology from the lab to the field, and to test and refine the work.
Putting it to the test
One key component that had many in the agriculture community hesitant about this technology centered around safety. How could an unmanned piece of ag equipment, like a tractor, be safe without a driver in the seat?
It’s a question that had me wondering as I watched a demonstration of the technology at Kinze’s headquarters in Williamsburg, Iowa, recently.
As the tractor and grain cart headed directly toward the crowd of onlookers, a little voice told me it might be wise to move to the left or the right rather than stand directly in the path of the oncoming machines. Rest assured Kinze has done their homework and the pieces of iron headed our way, did indeed, stop on cue.
More than two years in the making, Kinze extensively tested the technology against a variety of obstacles, like fence posts and farm animals, put in its path to ensure the accuracy and safety of the autonomous equipment.
What’s the next step? Kinze plans to market this technology commercially so growers can incorporate it into their operations, which will allow them to focus on other areas of their business.
“It’s our goal to help reduce grower fatigue and help them make the most of their harvest,” says Veatch. “As growers ourselves, we know how crucial it is to be productive during the short planting and harvest windows. With this technology, producers can set the equipment to run all night if necessary.”
Since farmers can’t be two places at once, the Kinze Autonomy Project may be the solution to optimize a farmer’s time during planting and harvesting.