SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A John Deere tractor is pulling a grain cart. Dust swirls around the equipment as the tractor roars by.
That’s a familiar sight in South Dakota. But there’s something different about this tractor.
The cab is empty.
The tractor is controlled by OMNiDRIVE, a product in the new Raven Industries OMNi series. OMNiDRIVE autonomously pilots a tractor hauling a grain cart and syncs it with a combine. The farmer in the combine controls the tractor with a tablet, eliminating the need for an additional driver.
Nick Langerock is the director of strategic marketing for Raven in Sioux Falls.
“It provides the combine harvester operator the ability to command the tractor that’s pulling the grain cart to go to a staging area to sync up to the combine when it’s time to unload or to go to the offload station to take grains to the bins,” Langerock said.
Hardware is installed in the tractor that syncs up to a tablet. The tablet communicates with a GPS system in the combine to help the tractor navigate the field, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported.
The second product, OMNiPOWER, is an autonomous vehicle that operates sprayer and spreader implements without a tractor. The machine looks like a Mars rover as it rolls across a field.
“What it allows it to do is allow it to be a carrier for that implement rather than traditionally pulling with a tractor an implement, this is actually a carrier of the implement and it can actually perform those applications autonomously,” Langerock said.
OMNiPOWER carried a sprayer implement during a recent demonstration.
An engineer using a tablet tapped on a field map, while keeping a watchful eye on the equipment. A farmer remotely controlling the machine can program the concentration of chemicals in specific areas.
Travis Bunde is a sales manager at Raven. He said OMNiDRIVE works in all fields, but OMNiPOWER currently works only with smaller grains such as wheat, oats and barley.
“The machine today is not set up to drive through rows, our standard row widths, but it does have the potential in the future to have that capability,” Bunde said.
OMNi products could reduce the number of workers needed in the field. Langerock said that will help farmers.
“Cause there’s a lot of labor stresses in the marketplace today, right? It’s not that we don’t want to pay labor, it’s that we can’t find the labor that’s needed,” Langerock said.
Both products are equipped with camera sensors that act as the machines’ eyes. Bunde said the sensors ensure safety for the farmer and prevent damage to the equipment.
“We have a very sophisticated perception system on the machine which utilizes a variety of different sensor technologies to understand its environment and recognize obstacles and even try to identify whether that obstacle is an actual hard obstacle or potentially just a deer or an animal running across the field,” Bunde said.
OMNi is not the first autonomous technology in agriculture. Ag companies like Monarch and CASE make autonomous tractors. Raven is one of the few companies producing autonomous technology for existing, non-autonomous equipment.