Traxx: petrol-powered robotic straddle tractor

21-12-2021 | |
Photo: Exxact Robotics
Photo: Exxact Robotics

On the occasion of World FIRA 2021, Exxact Robotics launched its first robot, a petrol engine powered straddle tractor. It’s supposed to give grape growers three advantages.

Exactly two years after its creation as a specialised subsidiary from French sprayer and sugar beet harvester Exel Industries, Exxact Robotics launched its first agricultural robot at World FIRA 2021 in Toulouse (France).

1.46 m wide and designed for narrow vineyards, Traxx is equipped with four 11.0/65-12 wheels with each a safety bumper. Château Montrose says Traxx adapts better to slippery and technically complicated grounds and reduces damage to trees with 30%. - Photo: Exxact Robotics
1.46 m wide and designed for narrow vineyards, Traxx is equipped with four 11.0/65-12 wheels with each a safety bumper. Château Montrose says Traxx adapts better to slippery and technically complicated grounds and reduces damage to trees with 30%. – Photo: Exxact Robotics

It’s the second specialised innovation from Exxact Robotics that was set up for the dedicated development of autonomous agricultural vehicles and systems to enhance their perception of the specific environment involved in vineyards and also that of extensive cultures. In 2019, just after its initiation, the company also attended the FIRA, but only with people and plans, not with any robots yet.

Second product

Early November 2021, the company introduced its first product, called the 3S Spot Spray Sensor to crops and analyse the images to identify diseases, pests and nutrient requirements and make spot and variable treatments in real time.

At World FIRA 2021, General Manager of Exxact Robotics Colin Cheballier explained to Future Farming, that the 3S Spot Spray Sensor is an inhouse development based on visual cameras that are not sourced from any currently known spot spray systems. “Spot spraying is becoming increasingly important and interesting and that’s why we have developed an own proprietary technology with visual cameras dedicated to Exel Industries’ sprayer brands.”

Exxact Robotics currently plans a presale series of 10 units for the 2022 season. It’ll be available including the matching tillage equipment from Braun Maschinenbau for € 126,000. - Photo: René Koerhuis
Exxact Robotics currently plans a presale series of 10 units for the 2022 season. It’ll be available including the matching tillage equipment from Braun Maschinenbau for € 126,000. – Photo: René Koerhuis

Cheballier also explained the reasons for developing the Traxx robotic straddle tractor. “We want to bring added value for narrow vineyard farmers with first of all safety and security for the driver or operator who work in narrow vineyards on steep slopes. Secondly, Traxx is a light-weight (1.3 ton) compact (3.2 m long, 1.46 m wide) robot. Current alternatives, manned straddle tractors, weigh 4 to 6 tons and can’t cope optimally with wet conditions and the narrow vineyards in the Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Lastly, we want farmers to be able to use existing implements and machinery.”

Cheballier thinks that gradually 10 to 30% of straddle tractor operations can be done by autonomous straddle tractors such as Traxx. “Traxx is an extension of the existing offering of Exel Industries”, he emphasises.

Integrated suspension

In 2022, Château Montrose will carry out further tests with a Traxx unit equipped with this Panel'Jet confined spraying technology of Exxact Robotics’ sister company Tecnoma. Depending on the stage of the crop, this is designed to recollect 40% (early season) to 15 to 20% (late season) of spraying liquid. - Photo: René Koerhuis
In 2022, Château Montrose will carry out further tests with a Traxx unit equipped with this Panel’Jet confined spraying technology of Exxact Robotics’ sister company Tecnoma. Depending on the stage of the crop, this is designed to recollect 40% (early season) to 15 to 20% (late season) of spraying liquid. – Photo: René Koerhuis

Robot Traxx is being developed and tested in cooperation with Château Montrose, a winery in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of the Bordeaux region of France with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. They produce three types of red wine.

According to the winery, Traxx’s advantages are ease of handling, identical efficiency to that of a traditional straddle tractor, reduced soil compaction due to its lightness, reduction of damage to branches (30% less breakage) and better adaptation to slippery and technically complicated grounds.

Hydrostatically driven Traxx can handle slopes up to 40% at driving speeds up to 6 km/h. It has an independent integrated hydraulic suspension on each of its four wheels for reasons of traction. The suspension also enables it to partly tilt and adapt to hilly conditions.

The robot can be operated by means of a remote control and fully autonomous as well. It uses GNNS-RTK to navigate and bumpers and a LiDAR sensor to scan the surroundings for obstacles and persons.

Engine from a ride-on lawn mower

The robot is powered by a 37 hp Vanguard petrol engine from Briggs & Stratton normally found on ride-on lawn mowers. - Photo: René Koerhuis
The robot is powered by a 37 hp Vanguard petrol engine from Briggs & Stratton normally found on ride-on lawn mowers. – Photo: René Koerhuis

A both interesting and remarkable choice is the type of engine/driveline. Exxact Robotics opted for a 37 hp Vanguard petrol engine from Briggs & Stratton that is normally powering ride-on lawn mowers. The weight, service friendliness and autonomy/range and maybe as well emissions are reasons to opt for this type of power supply and driveline for the short and middle term.

During the 2021 season, a Traxx prototype has been tested by the Château Montrose winery to perform tillage and weeding/hoeing operations autonomously. Exxact Robotics currently plans a presale series of 10 units for the 2022 season. It’ll be available including the matching tillage equipment from Braun Maschinenbau for € 126,000.

In 2022, Château Montrose will carry out further tests with a Traxx unit equipped with Panel‘Jet confined spraying technology of Exxact Robotics’ sister company Tecnoma. And there’s undoubtfully more applications and robots to follow!

Koerhuis
René Koerhuis Precision Farming Specialist
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