Since revealing its autonomous (driverless) tractor concepts at the 2016 Farm Progress Show, US, under its Case IH and New Holland brands, CNH Industrial has continued to evolve the technology and is now implementing pilot programmes to study autonomous vehicles in real life farming situations.
At one end of the scale, New Holland is partnering with a vineyard to look at how one of its small T4 tractors could be of benefit when operated autonomously.
At the other end of the scale, Case IH is applying the technology to its Quadtracs and is partnering with a large farming business which operates across four US states and Canada.
In 2016, both brands showed similar sized 400hp concepts, but with very different strategies; Case IH with its futuristic looking cab-less Magnum, and New Holland with a T8 which showed how the technology could be migrated from one tractor model to the next.
This included follow up previews of how the firm’s NHDrive technology could be integrated into one of its T7 Heavy Duty tractors.
New Holland’s pilot programme
New Holland is partnering with E and J Gallo Winery, California, USA, the largest family-owned vineyard in the world, in a pilot project testing its NHDrive autonomous technology applied to T4.110F vineyard tractors.
The aim of the programme is to gather agronomic and operator feedback on the use of this technology in everyday vineyard activities, says the manufacturer.
And by using one of its small T4 tractors, New Holland aims to show how its NHDrive technology can be scaled up or down its tractor ranges.
The pilot programme will carry out a full range of vineyard maintenance and crop production tasks.
These often repetitive applications represent a broad cross-section of activities which are undertaken in vineyards, says New Holland, and are also representative of those carried out by wider agricultural sectors.
Case IH’s autonomous Quadtrac
For its pilot programme Case IH is collaborating with Bolthouse Farms, one of the largest carrot producers in North America.
The goal is to understand how autonomous technology can be used in large-scale applications, says the manufacturer, and will focus first on primary tillage and deep tillage — both highly repetitive tasks which Bolthouse Farms conducts year-round.
For this, a small fleet of autonomous Quadtrac tractors pulling various cultivators will be used.
Case IH says this will help evaluate autonomous machine control in a variety of applications, soil types, meteorological conditions, and sensing and perception activities.
Categories of automation
Data generated during both pilots will be fed back into each brand’s respective autonomous vehicle programmes, providing detail on a range of possible automated and autonomous applications.
In particular, both brands will be evaluating how varying levels of automation and autonomy fit in with various agricultural applications. This varies from operator assistance where technology supports the operator in the cab, to full autonomy with no on-site supervision of the working machines.
Case IH, in particular, has found that current and future technology needs fall into five categories of automation for agricultural field applications (see graphic).
In addition, research carried out within the scope of the autonomous vehicle programmes is also generating derived technologies for both brands such as fully automated headland turns, already available on their machines.