Recent years have seen momentum build for autonomous vehicles in agriculture as a potentially more efficient and durable alternative to today’s machinery. But to bring autonomy to North American agriculture, it’s going to have to be phased in, says Kraig Schulz, president and CEO of Autonomous Tractor Cooperation.
Precision Farming Dealer editors recently talked to Schulz for insights on some of the solutions ATC is developing.
Recent years have seen momentum build for autonomous vehicles in agriculture as a potentially more efficient and durable alternative to today’s machinery.
But to bring autonomy to North American agriculture, it’s going to have to be phased in, says Kraig Schulz, president and CEO of Autonomous Tractor Cooperation.
The North Dakota-based company developed and patented two pieces of an autonomous solution it is gradually bringing to market.
The first is an aftermarket diesel-electric motor called the eDrive system that replaces a tractor’s transmission with four simple motors. According to Schultz, a 400-horsepower system can increase fuel efficiency by 30% and increase the life of a tractor by upwards of 25,000 hours.
The second phase of ATC’s autonomy platform is its AutoDrive system, based off another piece of proprietary technology called laser-radio navigation system. This system replaces traditional GPS using portable radio beacons on the tractor that follow the contour of the land for a cleaner, safer signal.
Full implementation of the system is still a few years off, but Schulz says the company has begun to develop its dealer network to deliver its eDrive system.
“We’re not building a tractor company, we’re building a technology company. So we are working with dealers who are interested in building a business around doing the sales, installation and distribution, etc. We have 4 dealers now that we are working with and what we do is we have them purchase the first unit. We do the install on that first unit and now they’ve got a demo tractor, but they also have a reference platform for doing the installations themselves.”
While the retrofits themselves are relatively easy, Schulz acknowledges that the company’s long-term goal will be to keep its dealers trained and educated on phasing in its autonomy platform and easing customers out of the cab.