Horsch, the German manufacturer of tillage, seeding and crop protection equipment, has confirmed it is working on a full-scale autonomous vehicle that will undergo field trials this year.
The driverless machine seen briefly in a social media video clip is said by Philipp Horsch to be powered by a 400hp diesel engine and to use hydrostatic drive but with a hydro-mechanical ‘vario’ transmission being planned for the device.
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No steering front axle
The prototype runs on Claas Terra-Trac units with rubber traction belts as used on Axion 900 ‘half-track’ tractors but in this case without a steering front axle – which raises the question of how it is steered when a wheeled seed cart is rigidly bolted to the rear of the chassis as in the video.
However, in an international patent application for a larger machine, Horsch says “the tracks can be mounted or arranged on the frame construction to swivel around an upright axle, for example, and thus to be steerable.”
The application also hedges Horsch’s bets by describing both tracked and wheeled carrier vehicles, the latter using rocking beams pivoting about a point equidistant between the front and rear wheels that connects the two wheels on each side.
In that respect, the chassis design appears similar in principle to that of the Agrifac and Amazone self-propelled sprayers and with potential for multi-mode steering.
No driver’s cab
Since both vehicle types have the engine mounted low ahead of the front axle, the lack of a driver’s cab to get in the way means there is plenty of space to carry interchangeable work modules.
The patents show drawings for planting, sowing, crop spraying and chaser bin equipment – all of which emphasises the scale of the proposed vehicles.
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the chassis design appears similar in principle to that of the Agrifac and Amazone self-propelled sprayers and with potential for multi-mode steering. - Photo: Horsch
Horsch dismisses use of a swarm of small robots
Describing the background to the new development, Horsch dismisses the use of a swarm of small robots as being impractical in terms of supply logistics – refilling seed hoppers or liquid tanks – and costly in terms of maintenance complexity.
It is also critical of towing solutions, such as an autonomously-operated tractor pulling conventional field equipment, because they offer no positive impact on purchasing costs and would require complex monitoring, guidance and control systems for the power unit and implement.
Instead, Horsch says: “The aim of the present invention is thus to create an autonomous agricultural carrier vehicle with which the effectiveness is not reduced, no additional towing vehicle is required for the equipment, and moreover no operator is absolutely necessary or permanently required during field work.”
Official details of Horsch’s chosen development and its technology partner are expected to be revealed in the first week of March.