Is New Holland’s NHDrive concept autonomous tractor the future of agriculture?

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At first glance, the T8 Blue Power tractor on display at the Farm Progress Show in Iowa this week may have looked like a standard tractor – but once the first images of the video dedicated to the tractor and its incredible operational capacities appeared on the screen, visitors understood that they were witnessing a glimpse into the future of farming.

Developed by CNH Industrial in collaboration with its long-standing technology provider Autonomous Solutions Incorporated, ASI, a Utah-based industry leader in off-road autonomous solutions, the New Holland NHDrive tractor is an unmanned vehicle that is fully autonomous and can be monitored and controlled via a desktop computer or via a portable tablet interface. This enables farmers to access tractor and implement data, wherever they are, from different locations, whilst checking fields from the comfort of their pick-up, whilst tending livestock or whilst at home, and always whenever they need. This facilitates right-time decision making to enhance operational efficiency and productivity. Furthermore, farmers will maintain full control and ownership of their data.

A path-plotting screen shows the tractor’s progress, another shows its live camera feed, providing the user with up to four real time views (two front and two rear). A further screen enables monitoring and modification of key machine and implement parameters such as engine speed, fuel levels and implement settings, including seeding rate or coulter downforce. The route to the field can also be planned, should this involve private roads or tracks.

The NHDrive concept tractor is equipped with a seeder, and is able to autonomously seed the next crop straight behind the combine. Using an application installed on a portable device, perfect for supervised automation, such as an operator driving a combine, or on a desktop computer, perfect for the farmer working in his farm office, the tractor and implement parameters can be continually monitored and controlled, and changes can be made if necessary.

Able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the NHDrive tractor helps to reduce the risks associated with human error as it follows predetermined and optimised plans for all activities. It is able to reach higher levels of productivity and efficiency than traditional methods. The NHDrive can make full use of the periods of favourable weather for farming operations by working day and night.

In the future, the NHDrive tractor will be able to completely automate grain handling during the harvest when equipped with a trailer, including unloading, transport and offloading activities.

The concept tractor is equipped with a cab that is completely identical to that of a standard T8. This means that it can also be used for those operations where complete autonomy is not yet possible, such as front loader work and high speed road transport.

As regards getting around the farm, the tractor can travel on pre-mapped private paths. Simply “tell it” where to go and what it has to do once it has reached its destination via private tracks, and the tractor will get to work, either individually or in a convoy.

The New Holland NHDrive tractor makes full use of the advanced PLM (Precision Land Management) technology for precision farming. This Open – Connected – Smart – Supported technology is easy-to-use, and is always accessible to all users and is continuously supported by New Holland specialists.

The tractor follows optimised in-field paths, which are automatically generated by the software, after having taken into account the size and shape of the field, any pre-existing obstacles and the width of the implement to be used. Furthermore, it will be fully compatible with the full suite of PLM solutions. In the future this concept will be able to utilise previously collected yield data for the variable application of inputs and to carry out operations with maximum precision, year after year. The results are increased operating efficiency and the ability to make the most of short operating windows.

The NHDrive tractor is able to work alongside other autonomous machines and can also work in tandem with machines driven by an operator. Thanks to a combination of radar, LiDAR (range finding lasers) and RGB cameras, the NHDrive is able to detect a wide range of in-field obstacles. If an obstacle is detected, the tractor sends a message to the interactive interface and the person responsible for the farming operations will decide if and how the tractor can avoid or bypass the obstacle.

It is conceivable, that in the future the complete tractor range as well as other agricultural equipment could be equipped with the NHDrive technology.

Furthermore it is possible that the cab will be completely removed in future autonomous tractors – as Case also hinted at the same show with its stylish autonomous concept based on the Magnum that essentially features the same technology. Look out for our September issue for more details!

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Tom is editor of ivtinternational.com and iVT magazine. During his 20 year career in journalism Tom has worked for a diverse range of titles including Men's Health and Cosmopolitan. He also edits iVT's UKi Media & Events stablemate Traffic Technology International.

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