Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Autonomous tractor captures imagination

Small machinery putting in big hours with little supervision offers farmers productivity opportunities

The AgXeed robot tractor doesn’t have any on-board decision making capability. It instead uses RTK GPS to guide it through pre-planned routes including headland turns and it will alert operators if it runs into problems. Photo: AgXeed

Dutch start-up AgXeed is developing crop production technologies that will enable farmers to perform real-world tasks through an online portal similar to a video game.

Philipp Kamps, marketing manager of AgXeed said the company is creating a system that uses a digital twin of a farm where missions for autonomous equipment are created.

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object, through the generation or collection of digital data.

“It works a little bit like Farming Simulator,” said Kamps.

Farming Simulator is a farming simulation video game that allows players to grow crops, breed livestock, and sell assets created from farming.

The simulations AgXeed is developing has a copy of the fields, farmyard, all of the equipment capable of autonomous operations, as well as digital tools that plan all aspects of crop production and monitor fields.

“In the digital barn you have all your robots, your top implements, your front and rear implements all their dimensions and let’s say their mechanical and electronic specifications. When you combine those with your fields and desired routing, the portal creates a kind of task planning and this will be sent to the vehicle,” Kamps said.

He said about 50 percent of the company’s research and development budget goes toward developing software and cloud technology capable of creating the digital environment and managing real-world tasks.

The other 50 percent of the company’s efforts are allocated to develop products that can be used in this digital environment.

AgXeed sells a path planning module from their online portal that can be used to integrate existing farm equipment, and it’s also developing its own line of robotic tractors that can be used to power traditional farm implements.

The first product unveiled to the public is a robot tractor with a 156 horsepower Deutz diesel engine, electric drive train, tracks, an electric 136-hp power take-off drive, an eight-ton Category 3 rear hitch, and a three-ton Category 2 front hitch.

“We believe there will be more electrification of implements in the near future, and that’s the reason why we can also link up with the electrified connector that gives you 100 kilowatts based on a 700-volt system,” Kamps said.

It also has a hydraulic capacity of 85 litres per minute at 180 bar.

There is no cab on the robot tractor so operators have to use a remote control to move it when attaching implements.

Control buttons are placed on the side panel to control the front and rear hitches when hooking up to implements.

The IsoBus connection, hydraulics and pto are similar to traditional tractors, but there are also ports for electrical cables and coolant lines for electrified implements.

AgXeed robot tractor doesn’t have any on-board decision making capability. It instead uses RTK GPS to guide it through pre-planned routes including headland turns, and it will alert operators if it runs into problems.

Cellular connectivity is used by the robot when it’s working, but it can also follow its pre-planned tasks if service is sporadic.

“A lidar system will give us a 360-view around the machine for obstacle detection. But at the same time it could collect 3D data from your crops, from your green manure or also from your soil,” Kamps said.

“There will be also be a kind of ultrasonic system for the near-field detection and we will also implement cameras so that when the robot is running, and let’s say it runs into an issue, that you have from your cellphone or from your web portal, the possibility to have a look around from a remote position,” Kamps said.

For transport, the company’s engineers have come up with a system that turns the robot into a trailer.

An axle with two wheels and a drawbar connect to the vehicle via two central tubes, and the tractor is pulled sideways down the road.

“The machine can be turned by 90 degrees, so not in the direction of driving. Then on one side you get a drawbar and on the other side there will be a kind of axle, which will hydraulically be engaged and we’ll lift the robot. Then it can go on the street with a maximum width of three metres,” Kamps said.

The track width is mechanically adjustable from 2.25 to 3.2 metres so it can also be loaded on a trailer and meet the needs of farmers that practice control traffic production.

AgXeed is testing the 156 hp robot tractor in 2021.

It will then have 10 units on farms in Europe in 2022, and plans to start selling the robotic platform for 250,000 euros in Europe toward the end of 2022.

There is no timeframe for when the robotic tractor will be available in Canada.

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