The first fully autonomous ground vehicles hitting the market aren’t cars or delivery trucks—they’re robo-farmhands. The Dot Power Platform is a prime example of an explosion in advanced agricultural technology, which Goldman Sachs predicts will raise crop yields 70 percent by 2050. But Dot isn’t just a tractor that can drive without a human for backup. It’s the Transformer of ag-bots, capable of performing 100-plus jobs, from hay baler and seeder to rock picker and manure spreader, via an arsenal of tool modules. And though the hulking machine can carry 40,000 pounds, it navigates fields with balletic precision.
Farmers map their land using an aerial drone or GPS receiver, upload that data to the Dot controller—a Microsoft Surface Pro—then unleash the beast into the field. The tireless machine can run around the clock, pausing only to refuel its 75-gallon diesel tank, and will save growers an estimated 20 percent in fuel, labor, and equipment costs. The first six Dots will be sold to farmers in grain-rich Saskatchewan, Canada, this spring (before a wider rollout next year). Get ready for a tech-tended bumper crop.
If the machine encounters an object that wasn’t included on the drone or satellite mapping imagery, it stops and beams a video to its remote operator.
The farmer uses a remote control to position Dot alongside the desired tool attachment, such as a seeder. Then four hydraulic arms hoist and secure the apparatus.
Each of the sensor-laden wheels can turn independently. The ag-bot’s electric and hydraulic guidance system tracks steering and wheel slippage to enable tight maneuvers.
Radar, light sensors, and object recognition cameras are potential features to help the robot tractor avoid obstacles.
Engineers are working on an upgraded communication system that will allow multiple Dots to cooperate in the field.
This article appears in the March issue. Subscribe now.