Imagine for just a second that you’re a Farmer and it’s harvest season – the busiest, most labor intensive part of the year. But instead of waking up at the crack of dawn anticipating a day of back-breaking work in the fields, you instead pull open your laptop and monitor your fleet of autonomous tractors while they cultivate the crops. You make a few adjustments to path-plotting, engine speed, and fuel levels but after that, you just sit back and let the machines do the work.

CNH Industrial’s Unmanned Tractor

This is the concept behind CNH Industrial’s Autonomous Tractor. Unveiled at the 2016 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, two tractors named the New Holland T8 NH and the Case IH Magnum showed off their impressive machine learning technology. Designed as a way to boost precision without relying on human labor, CNH’s unmanned tractor concept is poised to disrupt agriculture as we know it. By replacing human labor with machine automation, there’s no limit to how long a tractor can be out in the field harvesting or planting the next crop.

“The CNH Industrial autonomous tractor concept allows for complete remote deployment, monitoring, and control of the machines.”

With auto-steering and telematics already equipped in today’s tractors, CNH’s machine learning technology is taking the farming process to the next level. The IH Magnum, for example, is a cabless tractor that uses “GPS and accurate satellite connection signals for ultra-precise guidance and immediate recording and transmission of field data,” according to CNH’s recent press release. The New Holland T8 NH tractor has the same technology but still has a cab – giving the flexibility of a human operator and the option of resuming machine operations.

Integrated Path Planning Software

Using state-of-the-art integrated path planning software, users can design the most effective field paths for the tractors. Ideal for cultivating, planting, spraying and mowing, CNH’s autonomous machines can seamlessly integrate with other agricultural equipment. By selecting the machine of choice, the field to work in, and the settings, users can customize specific job tasks in and around manually operated equipment. Taking only 30 seconds to input the information, the Farmer has access to three operating screens controlling a fleet of manned and unmanned machines.

“Farmers will maintain full control and ownership of their data.”

With four strategically positioned cameras (two in the front/two in the back), Farmers can keep an eye on their crops while making sure the tractor stays on course. Since both of CNH’s tractors come fully equipped with LiDAR range finding sensors and high-res video camera, there’s no concern around avoiding obstacles such as fellow workers or hidden equipment in the fields. The entire purpose is to create a worry-free, efficient operation without the need for human interference. But if there is some sort of alert – whether that be a fuel issue or an object blocking one of the tractors – the machine moves to standby mode awaiting further human instruction.

“Any critical machine alarms or loss of critical machine control functions cause the autonomous vehicle to stop automatically for safety reasons.”

Machine Learning & The Future of Farming

As it stands right now, CNH’s autonomous tractors can be adjusted in real-time using the intuitive interface. If there’s a sudden storm, for example, farmers are able to shut down the system and restart where they left off. Since both the New Holland and the IH Magnum are powered by machine-learning technology, there need for human control and monitoring will decrease exponentially with time. Access to Big Data and artificial intelligence will make these machines even smarter than they already are – whether that be predicting the weather ahead of time or moving from harvesting to planting without needing guidance.

The benefits of integrating autonomous tractors into the operational fleet are obvious: Farmers can control the machines without adding employees; in addition, there’s no need to rest the tractors after a long day of work. It’s safe to say that machine learning is revolutionizing the agricultural industry.

Source: CNH Industrial Press Release