Williamsburg, Iowa-based Kinze Manufacturing, Inc. this week unveiled a robotics solution designed to increase productivity on the farm—the Kinze Autonomy Project. The technology, which is the first of its kind in row-crop production, utilizes autonomous agricultural equipment to complete many tasks on the farm with minimal direct human input, according to a prepared statement from the company.
"This technology could be used to do a variety of tasks, including planting, nourishing, maintaining and harvesting crops," said Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, vice president and chief marketing officer at Kinze.
During the two-year course of the project, Kinze performed extensive obstacle detection testing to validate the accuracy and safety of the autonomous equipment. Beginning in a laboratory environment and then in the field, Kinze engineers simulated real-world scenarios to ensure the equipment would detect objects often encountered in the field, such as fence posts, stand pipes, farm animals and other vehicles.
Similar autonomous technology has been used since the 1990s in many other industries, including mining, construction and the military. "Some simple forms of autonomy are used in rice production and orchard operations," Veatch explained. "However, until now, no other manufacturer associated with row-crop production has offered truly autonomous technology like this."
The Kinze Autonomy Project is designed to reduce the need for skilled operators by taking the human element out of the tractor cab. Kinze will market this technology to help growers increase their productivity by allowing them to focus their time and attention elsewhere, while performing cursory monitoring of the Kinze autonomous equipment.
"It's our goal to help reduce grower fatigue and help them make the most of their harvest," says Veatch. "As growers ourselves, we know how crucial it is to be productive during the short planting and harvest windows. With this technology, producers can set the equipment to run all night if necessary."
The technology was originally developed in a laboratory setting using computer simulation. Kinze engineers partnered with Jaybridge Robotics, based in Cambridge, Mass., to bring that technology from the lab to the field, and to test and refine the work.
Kinze has demonstrated the technology to its dealers and is developing plans for a commercial launch.