Hokkaido University in Japan has paved the way for autonomous tractors to take over agriculture, with their own swarm.
They have created the four tractor strong “swarm” as part of a new project, which aims to reduce the countries heavy reliance on the ageing workforce in agriculture. It is hoped this will allow agriculture to further develop, without having the problem of labour shortages.
Having these four small Yanmar tractors running as part of an unmanned operation, using coordinated movements is deemed more realistic option for Japanese farmers, than spending money on larger, more expensive, tractors. That’s according to Professor Shin Noguchi of the Agricultural Research institute in Hokkaido University.
“If we attempt to increase the size of tractors used, farmers will have to replace all their working machinery as well, which would be very expensive,” he said.
Professor Noguchi said he believes that working the 4 Yanmar tractors to perform simulated field cultivation tasks, is the first of its kind in the industry. He predicted that in the future, at least one tractor in each swarm will be manned, meaning the need for workers decreases significantly.
This person will be there to ensure that everything is running smoothly and to fix any potential breakdowns or problems. The team of researchers also claim that eventually, automated tractors will be able to work, unmanned, at night!This would save farmers hours of their time!
The tractors, set up by the university, are linked for group working so they copy the path set out by the lead tractor, by the width of farming implements apart. They run on guidance systems, meaning they follow maps.
“The most difficult technique when working in a group is to make the tractors turn without colliding,” said Prof Noguchi.
“At present, if a seamless turn is judged to be difficult, the tractors must stop and turn in sequence, which results in downtime; this is one of our current areas of focus.” he added.
A future of autonomous Tractor swarms will not only save farmers valuable time, but also money too. Never again will a contractor have to worry about finding good drivers, or about finding the time to carry out tasks. This really is the future of farming!