Unmanned ground vehicles are unmanned and hybrid electric diesel. The vehicle used a combination of vision systems and other technologies to sense its environment.
Local agtech company Robotics Plus has launched an unmanned hybrid orchard tractor that addresses labor shortages and worker safety challenges.
Designed specifically to work in orchards and vineyards, Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) were the first in New Zealand.
The company’s chief executive, Steve Saunders, said the driverless vehicles have reduced reliance on machine operators, who were difficult to find due to labor shortages.
The tractor was remotely controlled, allowing two operators to drive more than 10 vehicles at once, Saunders said.
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Driverless vehicles meant removing workers from potentially hazardous environments exposed to pesticides during spraying. It also meant less exposure to fatal tractor accidents, he said.
UGVs are easily adaptable for chemical spraying, weed control, mulching and crop analysis.
Sanders said most other autonomous technologies are designed for one type of task, so the multi-purpose modular platform stood out globally.
UGVs can be programmed to identify only certain areas of the crop and spray only those. This is called intelligent scatter.
The vehicle had replaceable parts, and if something broke, they could simply replace it and keep the vehicle running.
As the vehicle was mostly electric, there were no gearbox oils, hydraulic fluids or clutches. This has reduced service costs, he said.
Robotics Plus is already working with local vineyards and will be operational in apple orchards and vineyards in the United States next year, Sanders said.
This vehicle costs more than a conventional orchard tractor, which is in the $100,000 range.
According to Sanders, producers using UGVs can expect a return on investment after a year due to increased productivity and reduced operating costs.
Sanders said the vehicle was not fully electric. Battery technology was not well developed to handle the long runs required by the high power requirements of the agricultural industry.
A fully electric car might need to be recharged every four hours, but an electric car with a diesel engine can complete a full 12-hour shift.
Tauranga’s Robotics Plus has developed a machine to replace manual packers.
Some growers were running hundreds of tractors and the infrastructure to charge their vehicles every four hours was not yet available.
One of Robotic Plus’ US clients operated 300 tractors, Saunders said.
Saunders said there should be a return on investment for automation to be adopted.
This vehicle was more efficient than traditional tractor-type orchard vehicle models. Traditional tractor-type orchard vehicle models were very large and cumbersome, and could only turn every second row of his orchard during spraying, for example.
The vehicle used an independent motor, didn’t have to skip lines, and covered more ground in less time.
Robotics Plus co-founder Alistair Scarfe says the entire system, including the tools, has been electrified to minimize fuel consumption.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/130353006/robotics-plus-launches-unmanned-hybrid-vehicle-that-solves-labour-issues.html Robotics Plus Launches Driverless Hybrid Vehicles to Solve Labor Issues