Why we need driverless tractors for agriculture and farming? Farming is a labor intensive activity. Most agricultural activities require some or the other kind of manual intervention. Plowing is no exception.
While the use of tractors has transformed the way plowing is done, the tractors still need a human driver to control them. While people are migrating to cities, there is a dearth of human labor in these remote farm locations. Progressive tractor manufacturers are already working on driverless tractors to help farmers meet the increasing global food demand. For an autopilot to control a tractor, it needs to accurately know its position, its speed and the direction of travel. INS technology which has been used for guidance of aircraft and UAVs for many years can be used for autonomously driven tractors.
This article explores how this technology can get deployed in this application
A. Driverless Tractors: The Application Requirements
i. Accuracy: The driverless tractor requires very high positioning and orientation accuracy because crops are generally sown at a nearly constant separation from each other. Positioning accuracy of +/-10cm or better is desirable for this application. This accuracy is not achievable from pure civilian standalone GPS.
ii. Provision To Retrofit: Since a large number of tractors are already on the field, the ideal solution can be retrofit on existing tractors. This will allow a large number of farmers to adopt this technology for their existing assets.
iii. Compact: The autopilot assembly, which will also consist of a navigation system along with a steering control mechanism, has to be compact so that it can fit without occupying much space.
iv. Cost: The entire agricultural application or the industry is extremely cost sensitive. For the solution to be accepted widely, it has to be cost-efficient.
B. Role Of Inertial Navigation Systems In Driverless Tractors
If one evaluates all the possible options available to provide navigational guidance to tractors, compact (MEMS) inertial navigation systems combined
with a GPS/GNSS and RTK capability definitely stands out as the most viable and promising option.
Here are some advantages of INS-GNSS systems over other kinds of navigational systems:
i. Accuracy: Combination of INS-GPS offers better accuracy than GPS. Our Pollux INS, the micro-miniature MEMS INS from Aeron can offer centimeter level accuracy with an RTK set-up which is more than sufficient for the driverless tractors.
ii. Provision To Retrofit: Pollux can be used by both OEMs as well as manufacturers of retrofit kits which can be used to convert manual tractors to driverless tractors.
iii. Compact: Pollux is very compact in size, it is just 35 mm * 35 mm * 20 mm in size and weighs only 40 grams. This makes it a very ideal choice for OEMs as well as retrofit kit manufacturers.
iv. Cost: Pollux is extremely cost competitive, in fact, the lowest cost option with RTK capability. This makes the driverless tractor practically viable for large-scale use.