Crop innovations specialist Ian McDonald considers why cab-free autonomous equipment designs have proliferated, but not completely usurped more traditional designs.
Should you buy a cab-free autonomous tractor, or something of a more traditional design? It’s hard to say, though the answer likely depends on what the implement will be used for, and how it gets to the field.
In Future Farming’s latest episode of Field Trials, Ian McDonald, crop innovations specialist for the provincial ministry of agriculture in Ontario, Canada, describes the current autonomous equipment market as “a wild west” of ideas and concepts. With full autonomy coming in a variety of forms, the focus on more high-management crops has played a role in driving some companies towards cabless machines.
“Especially in the North American context, the emphasis is on horticultural crops where there are smaller acreages, more management concentration, and more problems because there are not as many herbicide and other crop protection options available,” says McDonald.
“Scale really comes into play. Some of these robots are really small, looking like little beer coolers on wheels…it makes no sense to have a cab on something of that scale, when you’re going to load it on a trailer and go to the field.”
Larger machines which can be manually operated have their place, of course, but moving them from field to field can be a challenge without an operator cab. In Canada, at least, McDonald says the laws regulating autonomous equipment on roadways – banning autonomous operation on public roads, more specifically – is a critical consideration for those investing in autonomous equipment.
“It’s the wild west. We’re on the cusp of something pretty monumental with disruptive change that will come to field crop agriculture. There are a lot of unknowns.”