Driverless tractors are becoming less futuristic and more in reach for every day farmers. Companies developing driverless vehicles that rely on sensors, GPS and precise data include Goldman Sachs, Autonomous Solutions Inc., and Hitachi. But what problems are they really trying to solve? We take a look at 3 of the big farm management problems this new tech hopes to solve.
3 problems that are driving us towards driverless tractors
There’s no doubt that using and maintaining your farm equipment can get very costly, especially when you’re delving into precision agriculture and smart farming techniques that rely on specialist machinery.
A big problem with the current driver-required tractors farmers are using is that it costs a lot of money to upgrade to the next machine. That’s just how the technology world tends to work: new tech costs more, old tech costs less. Add to that the cost of repairs, fuel and the time you spend cleaning and adjusting your machines and you’ve already racked up a lot of cost before even getting on the fields. Whether you spend money hiring people to drive the tractors for you, or spend your own time tending to the fields, it’s costing you serious money.
Driverless tractors mean you spend less time with your vehicles allowing you to get on with other jobs. According to Goldman Sachs, the content and technology that makes up the driverless farm vehicles they are creating currently costs around $2700. You will however want to consider the fact that the first model of a new technology is nearly always riddled with problems that are then solved by the next model which is greatly improved and comes with a bigger price tag. Expect to see the market take off when driverless tractors become available to the masses; some brands will be better than others with price tags to match.
The key thing you need to do when weighing up costs is to calculate how much more money your farm will make or save by using driverless tractors. The initial cost as well as the difficulty of finding someone who knows the tech enough to fix it and won’t charge a fortune needs to be offset by the increased productivity of your farm. Right now, driverless tractors won’t be solving the problem of costly farm equipment, but give it a few years for the data to pour in and you’ll be able to make a good estimate on whether they’d be a financial asset to your own farm.
With current driver-required tractors and farm equipment, the machines are limited to the same problem that us humans have – lack of time. Life is short and the days only seem to get shorter as we grow older. Farmers especially, are feeling this.
Farms are growing in size and employing workers to help with the fields is so costly we try and do as much for the farm as we can ourselves to keep costs down. This leads to long working days for farmers who really don’t get a break. This in itself leads to even more problems; tired humans make errors when driving machinery, which can be quite dangerous, not to mention other factors such as depression.
We can’t be out driving tractors throughout the night and during daylight hours if we have many important tasks to do for the day to day maintenance of our farms. We can’t spend all of our time driving around. What’s worse is that we can’t even multitask when driving tractors. Even for the farmers that enjoy the tractor driving part of farm life, it’s just not practical to spend endless amounts of time on that one task.
Driverless tractors should be a solution to this. Of course, you’ll still need to spend some time programming the tractors, re-fuelling them and maintaining them. With sensors, GPS and correct data about the size and shape of your fields (still room for human error unfortunately) hopefully driverless tractors can be out tilling, sowing and spraying your fields in the dead of night when you’re getting well needed rest.
There’s no guarantee that in the beginning they’ll be easy to operate. In fact, you might need to spend even more time getting to understand how driverless tractors work and how you set them up before you start saving time. However, the future is definitely looking bright when it comes to driverless tractors saving us time and energy.
It’s estimated by the World Bank that we’ll need to provide 50% more food by 2050 so the pressure is on for farmers to come up with more food, more nutrients and feed the masses. All this is balanced with financial constraints or making fields the size of cities. We need to work going forward with more efficiency.
That means more crops per field, less weeds and pests, yield improvement and general precision agriculture. We really can’t afford to be wasting hours of the day or letting crops fall short of standards. Sometimes a simple human error can cost you a lot of money and ruin your efficiency; whether it’s misaligning your tractors and not tilling enough rows, driving too fast and not sowing the correct distance or spraying the wrong mix of herbicides. So how can driverless tractors solve this problem?
Without human error, driverless tractors are incredibly precise. You tell them to drive in a straight line and a straight line is what you get. With the added sensors, the hope is that these machines will be able to detect holes, inclines and rough terrain in your fields and will know how to drive over these spots without requiring human assistance. The only problem here is that humans are still, in a way, operating these machines. If there’s an error in your programming or you use the wrong settings, the machine isn’t going to stop halfway down a field, realise the problem and correct it like you could if you were driving. These tractors are driverless but we’re not quite developing artificial intelligence agricultural technology yet!
That being said, driverless tractors are still going to be much more efficient than humans ever can be and we should embrace and learn to use this technology effectively to drive our industry forward.
Hopefully we’ve managed to convince you that driverless tractors really are going to be the next big thing, with a little investment and development from the tech giants.
Farm management is a tough job but don’t let it get you down. Work hard, be patient and sooner rather than later, driverless help will be on its way to you.