As labor costs continue rising for the shrinking pool of U.S. farm workers, automation looks like an increasingly attractive option to many producers. Raven Autonomy has a grain cart system designed to help automate the harvest. Its AutoCart allows producers to control a driverless tractor and grain cart from the cab of a combine. In other words, three machines can simultaneously be operated by just one person.
The AutoCart system allows growers to remotely set a field plan, establish staging locations, adjust speeds, monitor location activity, and command the tractor pulling a grain cart to sync with the harvester. The harvester can offload in the field at predetermined unloading areas without the need for a second driver. It can then be re-synched and sent off to its next job. Meanwhile, the farmer can call another tractor and cart as the harvester continues.
Sioux Falls-based Raven Industries, the parent-company behind AutoCart, has been at the forefront of precision ag equipment for decades. The Raven Autonomy division has spent years working on the AutoCart system but one of its biggest leaps was made via a perception system developed by Smart Ag, which Raven actually acquired in 2019. Wade Robey, Executive Director of Raven Autonomy, said it was an easily translatable technology that just hadn’t been truly commercialized yet.
The system works using a combination of radar mounted on the tractor’s front end, and a five-camera perception system that allows for a full-range view around the machines. The radar notices where things are, while AI programming determines what things are. Operations are performed through a smartphone, tablet, or desktop interface linked to an AutoCart-specific portal accessed through Raven.
In April of this year, Raven acquired the intellectual property (IP) of a Massachusetts-based Jaybridge Robotics, an early developer of automated agriculture technology. Jaybridge’s IP includes patents and other information related to path-planning, obstacle detection and avoidance, and multi-machine control systems. Raven plans to use the information to continue developing its “Driverless Ag Technology,” including its AutoCart platform.
Raven began accepting orders for AutoCart at the beginning of this year for use in the 2021 harvest season. The first release is focused on a John Deere platform but other machinery brand steering system units will come in the next year or two. Nick Langerock, sales and marketing manager for Raven says the system will cost about US$55,000. Learn more at Raven’s website HERE. Check out a video of AutoCart in action HERE. (Sources: Argus Leader, Crop Life, Seattle Times)