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Horsch pulls the plug on autonomous field robot development

It’s rather difficult to guesstimate the true size and power of the RO 1 because it lacks the good old cab, because the combination looks truly compact and because a pulling vehicle seems to miss.
The seed drill connected to the Horsch RO 1. The first autonomous robot project that Horsch started five ago ends. The philosophy includes the possibility to also hook other equipement behind the fieldrobot. - Photos: Horsch

Horsch has ceased the development of a universally applicable field robot, intended for tasks such as towing a seed drill. Alternatives, like (autonomous) standard tractors, have proven to be more practical and cost-effective for farmers.

The Horsch RO 1, which made its debut in fields over two years ago, is an autonomously operating universal robot mounted on tracks, with a seeder attached to its rear. It bears some resemblance to the successful AgXeed field robot. However, Horsch no longer sees potential in this concept, as revealed by Michael Horsch in discussions with German agricultural media outlets like Top Agrar and Agrarheute.

Autonomous tractors can compete better

Michael Horsch comments, “We were mistaken – the autonomous machines meant to replace tractors as power units are all stillborn. Such autonomous field robots are not cheaper than standard tractors equipped with cabins and drivers.” Horsch also believes that, especially in Europe, standard tractors equipped with autonomous kits offer a more cost-effective path to autonomy in agriculture. “These upgrade kits are becoming increasingly efficient and affordable. For approximately 10,000 euros or more, you can convert a standard tractor into an autonomous one, allowing it to operate both with and without a driver”, as explained by Michael Horsch. Additionally, the German entrepreneur points out that numerous questions regarding traffic safety and collision avoidance measures remain unanswered.

Horsch wide frame tractor still in development

In the future, Horsch intends to focus on creating autonomous solutions that are as simple and cost-effective as possible. However, whether Horsch’s other autonomous project, the Gantry RO G 500, can meet these criteria remains uncertain. Michael Horsch has already expressed initial doubts about this project as well. The Gantry RO G 500 was officially unveiled at the Bahia Farm Show in June 2023 in Brazil. This wide-frame tractor operates on a similar principle to the Nexat, with the aim of having its wheels consistently follow the same tracks year after year, using the Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) system.

The RO G 500 is a four-wheeled frame with a front spacing of 11 m and a rear spacing of 4 m, equipped with hydrostatic drive. On top, there are two tanks for 12,000 liters of seed and a 1,500-liter diesel tank. This is enough to sow 100 hectares of soybeans in Brazil.
The RO G 500 is a four-wheeled frame with a front spacing of 11 m and a rear spacing of 4 m, equipped with hydrostatic drive. On top, there are two tanks for 12,000 liters of seed and a 1,500-liter diesel tank. This is enough to sow 100 hectares of soybeans in Brazil.

But with a man on the machine

Despite the autonomous capabilities of the Horsch Gantry RO G 500 in terms of driving and navigation, a driver must be present to prevent blockages and other malfunctions that the machine cannot detect on its own. The driver’s focus should be on adjusting crucial settings, such as seeding depth, to optimize performance under local field conditions. To shield the operator from rain and mosquitoes, Horsch has equipped the Gantry with a cabin.

Controlled Traffic Farming ends with a significant bump.

Horsch’s experience with Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) hasn’t been favorable. The RO G 500 was designed like other wide-frame vehicle tractors to facilitate optimal CTF, with the maximum possible spacing between the wheel tracks. Horsch had previously worked intensively with CTF on the Czech experimental farm, AgroVation, in Knezmost. However, they have now abandoned this practice. After seven years of experimenting with CTF, Horsch didn’t observe significant yield improvements but did encounter a major drawback. Just like with unpaved roads, the tracks became firmer and bumpier over time, leading to rainwater accumulation and increased erosion.

Death blow for Nexat?

Horsch’s skepticism extends indirectly to the Nexat as well. Michael Horsch expressed his admiration for the machine and credited engineers Felix and Klemens Kalverkamp for their outstanding work. However, he added, “If a vehicle can do everything a little but nothing properly, you are only making compromises. And that won’t succeed.” Nonetheless, Horsch is still refining the RO G 500 on vast Brazilian fields.

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Hekkert
Geert Hekkert Chief editor of Future Farming





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