Greener Acres

Video describing how a driver-less, robotic tractor-implement system could help farmers produce more food, more profitably.

A rising population and urban sprawl have left many wondering about the challenges of feeding future generations. One possible solution focuses on simultaneously maximizing the use of dwindling farmland while implementing more efficient planting, growing and harvesting technology.

Regina, Saskatchewan-based Dot Technology Corporation offers their autonomous DOT Power Platform - a U-shaped, diesel-powered unit that’s basically a mechanized frame, or tractor, designed to connect and carry a variety of farming implements.

So instead of hooking up to a planter, plow or maneuver spreader, the 4.2-ton DOT connects beneath and on three sides of the field implement with a remote control. In addition to a hauling capacity of 40,000 pounds, the DOT features four hydraulically-driven wheels with individual hydrostatic pumps and a top speed of 12 mph.

Similar to the mapping process used by warehouse robots, the farmer uses software and a GPS receiver to generate a path plan for each field, including boundaries and obstructions. Embedded sensors constantly update this information so DOT can make safe and efficient decisions about its navigation path.

It also utilizes a Windows Surface Pro tablet to communicate with a local network in transferring data from the field that can include virtual reality mapping, fuel usage and vehicle performance. The DOT can run in full autonomous mode in fields or by remote control closer to barns and equipment sheds. However, autonomous mode cannot be activated if any portion of the implement is outside of the pre-determined field boundary.

According to the company, the machine can be run as long as there’s fuel in the 75-gallon ­diesel tank, saving farmers an estimated 20 percent in fuel, labor, and equipment costs.

Next steps will include an upgraded communication system that will allow multiple DOTs to cooperate in the field, and working with additional vendors in developing a wider range of implements. Currently, the only implements available are for planting and spraying. The company hopes to have a half-dozen DOTs on farms in Saskatchewan later this year before ramping up production and commercial availability in 2019.