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Autonomy – Are We Really There Yet

Autonomy – Are We Really There Yet?

In this article, we’ll look at several exciting and much talked about topics in the agriculture technology arena. Perhaps you’ve already invested in an army of drones, or maybe you’re too wary of technology to give it responsibility of your farm. Either way, we invite you to leave your opinion in the comments below. Do you think we’re really at the stage where technology is pushing forward our farms?

Driverless Tractors

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because he had to drive his “driverless” tractor to the field and can’t get a lift back.

Okay, so that’s not the best joke but it certainly drives home a valid point when considering the cab-less tractors we’ve been seeing more frequently at the big agriculture tech events. Some autonomous machines are set up to plough, sow and irrigate your fields without humans being present although it’s still going to take some computer programming skills. Yet still, we see prototypes with a temporary driver’s seat so farmers can drive the machine to the field in the first place. How are we supposed to get back to our farm hub? Surely this defeats the purpose of having a machine that doesn’t need humans to actively run it?

There are further considerations to think about. Say scientist do find a way to programme autonomous tractors to drive straight to your fields and back again once their work is done; will it be legal to have driverless tractors on public roads as they go to and from work? If you don’t have backroads in place, your tractor will definitely need to use them. Furthermore, despite the leaps made in GPS technology, we all know how unreliable it can be… imagine programming your tractor to plough your field and it ploughs the school football field next door instead?! Each year we here about how far technology has improved and predictions for the technology of the future. Let’s not forget that back in the 60s they thought we’d have colonised the moon or mars by now, so when we hear that all farming will be autonomous robot controlled in a decade’s time, take it with a pinch of salt.

Safety concerns

Following on from the point above, autonomous farm machines needs to be safety conscious, just like driverless cars. Developing the right sensors that are 100% reliable is still taking some time, hence why we’ve not seen driverless cars on the roads. If they can’t stop 100% of the time when a human unexpectedly steps out into the road, no government is going to legalise them. It will most likely be the same with tractors. Say some trespassing campers have set up on a grassy field overnight, and you send your driverless tractor down there to plough it up.

Furthermore, consider the damage your driverless tractor could do to the environment (or itself) if there’s no human element to stop it hurtling over large rocks and falling down a ditch. Repairing the tractor could be incredibly expensive and not something you can just take to your local mechanic to fix, considering the level of technology used to build the thing.

Unlimited Refills

It’s 4am, you’re tucked up in bed next to the wife and your driverless tractor runs out of fertiliser, oil, gas or seeds 10 miles away. What are you going to do about that?

Now, either you need to spend a lot of time calculating exactly how much the machine will need to do its job before you set it to work, or you’ll need to get out there are refill it yourself. Of course, some people are suggesting building a secondary autonomous machine to go out and refill the machine when it’s empty, but that in itself comes with further problems. Firstly, it’s going to add to the cost: the average farmer is unlikely to able to afford an expensive driverless tractor as it is, let alone a second refill machine. Secondly, the more machines you have, the more likely it is that the tech will break down or something will go wrong.

The best way around this problem that we can see is to have the driverless tractor send you an alert an hour or so before it runs out, so you can get ready to go out there are refill it with plenty of time. Any way you look at it, you’re going to be losing sleep to refill it (which I’m sure will defeat the point for many farmers) or you need to be willing to pay extra for even more tech.

Farmer Acceptance

Just because the techy farmers in the world are all for driverless tractors and other autonomous machinery taking over farm labour, doesn’t mean everyone is. Some farmers are just wary of tech in general, while others would rather do the job themselves. Indeed, some days it seems like running a farm is more desk work that manual labour!

If you enjoy roaming the fields, driving the tractor and getting down and dirty with day to day manual labour activities, it makes more sense to get tech to run the business farm management side instead. But bear in mind that whether you like the idea of driverless tractors or not, if that’s the way agricultural tech is heading, there might not be anything you can do.

We genuinely believe that tech is the way forward, and now really is the time to get started with it. Say you stick to your perfectly fine human-run machinery for the next 10 years, not really paying much attention to the new tech that’s evolving around you. After that decade is up and you are in desperate need of some new machinery to replace the old, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to understand and use the new tech on the market. You need to grow with the tech, learn how to use it and understand how it works. After all, running a farm is a business and you’ll need that tech to stay efficient and competitive with the other farmers in the market.

These are just 4 considerations for driverless tech. Let us know your thoughts below. Are you looking forward to autonomous tractors or are you a stickler for tradition?

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