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Farm Again

Are Robotic Tractors in Your Future?

By Rebecca Brightwell, MBA
Farm Again Co-Director

You can’t order one from your dealer today, but robotic tractors could be available for purchase in the near future. On-board computers already have the capability to control many tractor functions. Add a little more hardware, a GPS-powered guidance system, some navigational software and you have a tractor that doesn't need you warming up the cab seat.

Also referred to as autonomous tractors , they basically remove the need for a person to be physically on the equipment to operate it. Researchers at the University of Georgia Tifton campus are on the forefront of this new technology.

“We currently have several autonomous tractors that we are testing in the field,” says Dr. Glen Rains, Project Director of AgrAbility in Georgia and Associate Professor at UGA’s Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering. “Autonomous tractors aid farmers with disabilities by removing the tractor. Tractor lifts are one of the key concerns of farmers with disabilities in wheelchairs. Transferring to and from a wheelchair can be tedious and dangerous. Autonomous tractors would allow farmers to do much of their farm operation using cameras and computers,” said Rains. So far, applications for autonomous vehicles in agriculture have been targeted toward field and orchard operations. This includes tillage, seeding, spraying and some harvesting operations. Key benefits are increasing productivity and maximizing profits.

As many farms consolidate and become larger, they are increasingly concerned with improving their balance sheet performance. Increasing productivity, utilizing the land more efficiently and reducing labor costs are just a few of the benefits of the semi-autonomous and autonomous operations.