We've had autonomous cars, autonomous trucks, and autonomous buses, and now Osaka-based diesel engine manufacturer Yanmar is introducing a new line of robotic tractors. On October 1, 2018, the company is releasing its 2-series tractors equipped with the Smartpilot autonomous operating system and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that allow them to operate in autonomous and semi-autonomous modes.
Plowing a field is a lot more than just running a tractor up and down a field. It's actually a highly skilled job that requires significant training and practice to create a uniform pattern of rows that are properly spaced and follow the contours of the land in a way that minimizes erosion.
According to Yanmar, its unmanned Robot Tractors and semi-autonomous Auto Tractors are designed to not only decrease the need for manual labor, but also the need for trained drivers to perform high-precision field work – a particularly important factor in a country like Japan with large farms that are facing an aging agricultural workforce. In addition, the robotic technology can be retrofitted to more conventional Yanmar tractors.
In operation, the tractors can work in Auto and Linear mode. In Auto, the robotic tractor handles all driving operations while using GPS or base stations for precise navigation. In Linear, the tractor handles moving back and forth across a field during cultivation while a human operator deals with more difficult maneuvers like turning in confined spaces. Meanwhile, the ICT system gathers farm management data through a sensor network.
If a human operator is needed, they don't have to be in the cab. Instead, there's a weatherproof 10-in tablet that allows one person to control two tractors at the same time. In addition, the tablet can program driving routes and track the machines independently. There's also an extensive safety system to avoid accidents and allow the operator to perform emergency stops.
Yanmar says that it expects to sell 100 of the Robot and Auto Tractors over the next year. The Auto Tractor is priced from ¥10,725,000 to ¥14,075,000 (US$96,000 to US$126,000) and the Robot Tractor goes for ¥12,145,000 to ¥15,495,000 (US$109,000 to US$139,000).
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