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Case IH Moves Autonomous Concept Tractor Forward

When Case IH unveiled its Autonomous Concept Tractor in the summer of 2016, gauging farmer interest was at the center of the project. Since then, the company has been talking to customers around the world to study how this technology can be implemented to maximize the benefit in an operation. Today, Case IH, through its Autonomy and Automation Program, is researching and piloting autonomous technology in real-life situations.

“While the autonomous concept vehicle reveal in 2016 showed the world what’s possible with autonomous vehicles, it was just that — a concept. This working tractor provided a platform for us to start discussions with farmers and the industry about the technology needed for High-Efficiency Farming operations today and in the future,” says Robert Zemenchik, Case IH AFS global product manager. “We’re ready to show how automation and autonomy applies across agriculture and how it can advance the precision farming solutions our customers are currently using on their farms.”

Because no two farming operations are alike, each requires varying levels of automation. With that in mind, Case IH found, through extensive Customer Driven Product Design research, that current and future technology needs to fall into five categories of automation.

  1. Guidance
  2. Coordination & Optimization
  3. Operator Assisted Autonomy
  4. Supervised Autonomy
  5. Full Autonomy

“It’s exciting to explore the efficiencies that automation and, eventually, full autonomy can bring to each farming operation,” Zemenchik says. “The logic behind the categories is to provide a vision of what’s possible. They are not linear, and a given fleet may even fit into more than one category at a time. Today, many of our customers are already operating in the Guidance and/or Operator Assisted Autonomy categories.” 

The five categories start with automating specific tasks on a piece of equipment. With the introduction of its AFS AccuGuide auto guidance system in the 1990s, Case IH has a long history of providing farmers with automation technology. That tradition continues today with advanced solutions, like AFS AccuTurn automated headland turning technology and AFS Soil Command seedbed sensing technology. 

Taking to the field

In an effort to understand how new autonomous technology can be used and how it meets real-world, on-farm requirements, Case IH is collaborating with Bolthouse Farms on an autonomous tractor pilot program.

“The only way to validate on-farm uses for autonomous technology is, quite literally, with field pilots where farmers use it on their own farm, integrate it into their own fleet and conduct their everyday activities,” Zemenchik says. 

As one of the largest carrot producers in North America, Bolthouse Farms is a year-round operation that farms extensive acreage across four states and Canada. The company’s focus on and openness to advanced technology, coupled with their desire to improve productivity, makes it an ideal participant in the program. 

At first, the pilot program will focus on primary tillage and deep tillage - both highly repetitive year-round tasks for Bolthouse Farms. A small fleet of autonomous Steiger Quadtrac tractors pulling a True-Tandem disk harrow or Ecolo-Tiger disk ripper will be used. This will help evaluate autonomous machine control in a variety of tillage applications, soil types, meteorological conditions and sensing and perception activities. 

“One of the primary goals is to receive agronomic and operator feedback on the use of autonomous technology in real-world farm conditions so Case IH can further develop and refine our technological control and machine optimization systems,” Zemenchik says. “Additionally, we will be able to learn from Bolthouse Farms what uses it envisions for automation and autonomy that we might not have already thought of.” 

Brian Grant, Bolthouse Farms vice president of agriculture, views the autonomous tractor pilot program as an opportunity to find new ways to make the company’s operation more efficient and deliver high-quality food for the growing population. 

“We’re just now starting to play the ‘what if?’ game — where we’re asking ourselves and the Case IH engineers the questions about what autonomous tractors are capable of,” Grant says. “And the answers to these questions are not ‘if.’ It’s ‘when.’” 

The pilot program will launch in 2018. As it progresses, Case IH will provide periodic updates. To learn more, visit caseih.com.

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