One of the critical drivers of widespread adoption of autonomous ag technology will be cost vs. value.

Like any new technology, there will be a learning curve and fusion onto the farm will be gradual. Dr. Scott Shearer, ag engineering professor at Ohio State University, doesn’t foresee automation being a wholesale replacement to human oversight on the farm.

He views error correction with sprayer applications as the most practical and economic entry point for robotic implements to prove their value on the farm. The opportunity to avoid the expense of custom application and improve safety are two factors driving momentum for autonomous application technology.

I think personally, two-thirds of the misapplication problems can be corrected because they're all related to human errors. Either the human that set up the sprayer or the one that was sitting in the seat when they were driving. So that's one of these things that's coming and it's going to change the way everybody looks at spray application. I don't think there's any question about it, but again, who's going to come up with that first? I'm going to call it field view for spray application. And what I'm talking about is real data set to backup with the quality of application is.

“I think the key is spray application. And my point is, farmers will tolerate some errors with spray application because they really can't see it. One of the things they won't tolerate are errors with seeding operations or harvest operations because the results are very visible.”

Shearer adds that as companies commercialize smaller, autonomous sprayers, it could reshape the manufacturing model, with less reliance on high-clearance models in the future and more emphasis on parts and service for the robotic versions.