A demonstration coming up in Maricopa, Arizona may offer an important signal about the future of farming: autonomous agriculture. Like passenger and commercial vehicle makers and users, operators of farm equipment want to work more efficiently, profitably and safely.
The demonstration on March 27 is for DOT Technology Corporation’s Autonomous Power Platform. According to DOT, their platform is “a mobile diesel-powered platform designed to handle a large variety of implements commonly used in agriculture, mining and construction. Its U-shaped frame facilitates the direct loading of implements, so that, once loaded, the implement ‘becomes one’ with the mobile powered platform.” In other words, the platform becomes the autonomous brain for farming equipment such as sprayers, seed drills, grain carts and other agricultural tools.
DOT claims that its platform’s “long-range sensors make the power platform more accurate and attentive than any human.” And that it “constantly updates itself with images of the physical world around itself and processes the data at lightning speed. Capable of making decisions, DOT will send alerts to the farmer if it is unsure how to proceed.”
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Norbert Beaujot—a farmer himself and a professional engineer—founded SeedMaster, a company and a pioneering piece of farm equipment that SeedMaster claims as the first active-hydraulic, ground-following, individual row opener. Beaujot, now CEO of DOT and the inventor of the power platform, didn’t stop there, according to the announcement for the demo he “was uncomfortable with the way we were going because we were getting less and less efficient because of the bigness of the equipment,” he said. “With the scaling and sizing of DOT, we’ve brought that efficiency back into line.”
The market for autonomous farm vehicles, equipment and agricultural robots, like DOT’s power platform, is thriving. According to MarketWatch, the European autonomous farm equipment market will see gains at 20 percent by 2024. Market Study Report has released research that forecasts that the overall Autonomous Farm Equipment Market is estimated to surpass US$180 billion by 2024—including key players like John Deere, Harvest Automation, Case IH, Mahindra, Agribotix, Agrobot and others. Market Research Engine reports that the “market for agricultural robots will develop rapidly in the next 5 years, as compared with the previous 5 years, while providing significant market opportunities to various market participants,“ and that “the agricultural robots market is anticipated to maintain a healthy growth rate and will reach US$16.8 billion by the end of 2020.”
It’s an opportunity that DOT is poised to go after. After, and likely depending on the outcomes of the Maricopa demonstration and possibly others, DOT is preparing a marketing strategy with planned, limited introductions in spring of 2019. DOT is also reported to be setting up a retail distribution operation. In January of 2019, DOT tapped agricultural technology expert Robert Saik to be CEO of Dot Ready Retail. Saik will work with farmers in Canada and begin establishing a retail and distribution system to support autonomous farming.
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Mark Miller is a contributing writer to SAE International. He has worked as a technology writer and editor for IBM and other advanced information technology firms. His areas of concentration include artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, analytics and Internet of Things technologies.