Last week at the Farm Progress Show, Ames, Iowa-based technology developer Smart Ag showcased its AutoCart autonomous technology during a field day demonstration. Constructed as an aftermarket kit, the AutoCart can be installed into the cab of a tractor and synced with a combine during harvest season to give a grower control of two machines from one location.

As explained by Smart Ag’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Barglof, the AutoCart is intended to combat labor shortages during harvest season, notably in rural communities where fewer people are available to complete tasks in the field.

The AutoCart interface is operated though a wireless tablet app, which allows users to track and adjust the speed and route of the tractor, Barglof says, adding that the system’s recognition and data-collecting capabilities will allow field routes to become increasingly accurate over time.

“Inside of the tractor system is the control to physically move the tractor, but also an artificial intelligence engine with capabilities to increase its intelligence over time. So, the longer it operates, the more information we get from the field.”

Barglof says the platform works with John Deere 8R series tractors, but developers intend to expand functionality to different types of equipment and brands. Approximately 10 dealerships across various states have partnered with Smart Ag in the preliminary stages of releasing the platform, including Ohio-based Info Ag Tech.

Speaking on the value of partnering with Smart Ag, Ag Info Tech’s CEO Tim Norris says the advancement of autonomy could shift the nature of his dealership to a service-based focus, working with customers to pre-calculate routes established and keep systems up to speed. Norris also anticipates the revival of smaller, seemingly outdated tractors in an industry driven by automation and aftermarket installments.

“What I do think will probably happen is you’ll see smaller tractors becoming more valuable. I also think there’s a pretty good long-term aftermarket strategy for it (Smart Ag) though, because a good 4240 could become a valuable farm mainstay implement again. You can have that 4240, no one really cares if it’s got a good cab or not. It doesn’t really have to have electronics as long as we can put the stuff on it to steer it.”

Ag Info Tech and other dealerships will be rolling out the technology in a limited scope over the next few months. Barglof says a full commercial release is expected for 2019 with price point estimates between $35,000-$40,000.