While CNH Industrial has been grabbing headlines recently with its driverless tractor concepts, Fendt has also been busy working on its version of autonomous vehicles.
Fendt’s MARS system comprises multiple robots which are lighter than conventional tractors and can work around the clock.
But rather than use existing tractors and adapting them, the firm has been looking into the use of autonomous robots.
Together with the University of Ulm, Germany, initial studies have focused on the use of robots for satellite-supported sowing of maize. Designated the MARS project (Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms), the aim is to increase the efficiency of farming tasks by being able to work around the clock with higher levels of precision, and with less labour. As the project name suggests, the use of small but many robots also allows the system to better adapt to changing conditions and situations, claims the manufacturer.
The field robots are transported to their operating site with a logistics unit – essentially a trailer where the robots can re-charge and re-fill with seed. From there, they perform sowing operations, automatically and enable site-specific adjustment of the sowing pattern and sowing rate, as well as the documentation of each seed.
As a result, the manufacturer says this allows better traceability of seed products, and it has the potential for increased yields, due to better placement/use of product.
Through their battery-powered, electric drive, low weight and autonomous operation, sowing can also take place under conditions where conventional farming usually cannot be used, says Fendt.
The system can be accessed using an app on a device such as a tablet and can therefore be controlled independent of location. Using the interface, the desired field, seeds, seeding pattern and density as well as the number of robots can be selected from the available data.
A clever programme then plans the robot operations based on the parameters which have been entered and calculates the time required to complete the task. As soon as the logistics unit has been positioned, the use of the robots can be started with the app. While they are working, the robots communicate via an internet-based storage system, ‘the cloud,’ so geo coordinates can be saved for the location of each seed.
Previewed in 2012, Fendt is no stranger to autonomous vehicles, with this demonstration of its ‘lead and follow’ concept.
If a robot should ever fail, its task is immediately taken over by another unit, says the manufacturer. Work progress can be followed live with the app, which includes the charging state of the robots’ batteries and ensures all batteries are recharged in due time at the logistics unit.
Information about the placement of the seed is stored in the cloud and can also be used for further growth processes, such as applying fertilisers and harvesting. Afterwards it can be used for analysis to improve the planting process.
The research project is sponsored by the European Union within the framework of the FP7 programme, part of Echord++, the European Coordination Hub for Open Robotics Development.
MARS is still very much in the early stages of development, but with Fendt’s ‘lead and follow’ technology, whereby an unmanned tractor follows a manned tractor, which already exists, the manufacturer is keen to gauge possible interest in the technologies.