While CHN Industrial has been grabbing headlines with its driverless tractor concepts ,Fendt has been busy working on its version of autonomous vehicles.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 the robots for satelite-supported sowing of maize .Designated the MARS project (which stands for Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms ) ,the aim is the increase the efficiency of farming tasks by being able to work around the clock with higher levels of precision , but less labour .
As the project name suggests , the use of many small robots allows the system to better adapt to changing conditions and situations , claims the manufacturer .Field robots are transported to their operating site with a logistics unit -essentially a trailer where robots can recharge and refil with seed .
From there , they perform sowing operations automatically and enable site-specific adjustement 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 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 take place under conditions where conventional farming usually cannot be used , says Fendt .
The system can be accesed 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 robot operations based on parameters which have been entered and calcultes the time required to complete the task.As soon as the logistics unit has been positioned , the use of robots ca be started with the app .
While they are working , robots communicate via an internet-based storage system ,”the cloud ” , so geo co-ordinates can be saved for the location of each seed .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 seed placement is stored in the cloud and can be used for further growth process , 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 Co-ordination Hub for Open Robotics Developement .
MARS is still in the early stages of developement , but with Fendt´s existing “lead and follow ” technology , whereby an unmanned tractor follows a manned tractor , the manufacturer is keen to gauge possible interest in the technologies .