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Unveiling the latest in autonomous equipment

Originally published on agdirect.com.

Leaders in the ag equipment industry continue to make advancements toward the adoption of autonomous farm equipment.

According to the Autonomous Farm Equipment Global Market Report 2020-30, North America was the largest region in the autonomous equipment market in 2019. The report also named Raven Industries, Inc., as one of the key players bringing autonomous solutions to the forefront.

The South Dakota-based leader in precision agriculture recently debuted their autonomous platform, Dot, at the Farm Progress Virtual Experience, one of the largest public farm shows in the United States.

The Dot Power Platform is an autonomous, diesel-powered unit designed to perform a variety of field operations. Using a U-shaped frame as the central unit, Dot can easily be attached to a variety of interchangeable implements including a seeder, sprayer or spreader.

Once field boundaries and avoidance areas are mapped with a GPS receiver, the user approves and uploads a path plan to Dot software before in-field operations begin. The all-in-one platform is operated using a tablet that communicates with the Dot unit through a cellular network and it can be run in autonomous mode or by remote control.

“Bringing autonomous solutions to the farm will allow us to connect all aspects of the operation for the first time,” says Wade Robey, executive director of Raven Autonomy. “We will connect, control and optimize the full precision agricultural ecosystem.”

“This provides farmers greater control and access to more information to optimize decision making,” he explains. “Farmers will see efficiency gains across their entire operation, better equipping them to compete in a challenging world.”

Solving labor challenges

The Dot Power Platform builds on Raven’s portfolio of market-leading precision ag technology. Each level within the Raven Autonomy ecosystem leverages technology to put farmers on the path to greater precision, efficiency and consistency with less reliance on human variabilities.

“It can be very hard to find skilled labor or someone you know you’re going to trust,” says Kyle Mensen, lead test engineer on the Dot project with Raven Industries. “When a farmer adopts autonomous equipment like the Dot system into their operation, they might feel like they are losing control, but in reality, they’re gaining complete control of the system.”

“Autonomous equipment is not going to get tired,” Mensen adds. “You can run it 24 hours a day, and because it knows it’s surroundings you can trust that if it encounters something unexpected it’s going to correctly adjust it’s path, or if it doesn’t know what to do, it’s going to stop and alert you.”

Additionally, autonomous applications can help producers cover more acres from no longer requiring manual steering, and reduce driver fatigue and misapplication in the field, which can cost growers yield and profit up to 2 percent.

Putting safety first

The safe use of autonomous machinery is a challenge precision agriculture leaders, like Raven, have worked diligently to address.

The Dot Power Platform currently operates on a safety system that allows the operator to initiate a controlled or emergency stop from their remote, tablet or on the machine itself. The Raven Autonomy team has also developed a camera-based perception system that they are now incorporating onto Dot to enhance safety measures and allow the machine to respond dynamically as it moves through the field.

“Safety is the absolute top priority as we’re developing autonomous technology,” says Mensen. “We keep that in mind as we’re going through all of the software checks. No matter what change we make, we run every test to make sure all of our safety mechanisms are still in place and that we did not hinder that in any way.” 

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