Tag Archives: Tractor

Fields in North America will see their first robot tractors by the end of the year

American farm equipment manufactured John Deere has teamed up with French agricultural robot start-up Naio to create a driverless tractor that can plow, by itself, and be supervised by farmers through a smartphone.

Image credits CES 2022.

There are more people alive in the world today than ever before, and not very many of us want to work the land. A shortage of laborers is not the only issue plaguing today’s farms however: climate change, and the need to limit our environmental impact, are further impacting our ability to produce enough food to go around.

In a bid to address at least one of these problems, John Deere and Naio have developed a self-driving tractor that can get fields heady for crops on its own. This is a combination of John Deere’s R8 tractor, a plow, GPS suite, and 360-degree cameras, which a farmer can control remotely, from a smartphone.

Plowing ahead

The machine was shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an event that began last Wednesday. According to a presentation held at the event, the tractor only needs to be driven into the field, after which the operator can sent it on its way with a simple swipe of their smartphone.

The tractor is equipped with an impressive sensory suite — six pairs of cameras, able to fully perceive the machine’s surroundings — and is run by artificial intelligence. These work together to check the tractor’s position at all times with a high level of accuracy (within an inch, according to the presentation) and keep an eye out for any obstacles. If an obstacle is met, the tractor stops and sends a warning signal to its user.

John Deere Chief Technology Officer Jahmy Hindman told AFP that the autonomous plowing tractor will be available in North America this year, although no price has yet been specified.

While the tractor, so far, can only plow by itself, the duo of companies plan to expand into more complicated processes — such as versions that can seed or fertilize fields — in the future. However, they add that combine harvesters are more difficult to automate, and there is no word yet on a release date for such vehicles.

However, with other farm equipment manufacturers (such as New Holland and Kubota) working on similar projects, they can’t be far off.

“The customers are probably more ready for autonomy in agriculture than just about anywhere else because they’ve been exposed to really sophisticated and high levels of automation for a very long time,” Hindman said.

Given their price and relative novelty, automated farming vehicles will most likely first be used for specialized, expensive, and labor-intensive crops. It may be a while before we see them working vast cereal crop fields, but they will definitely get there, eventually.

There is hope that, by automating the most labor-intensive and unpleasant jobs on the farm, such as weeding and crop monitoring, automation can help boost yields without increasing costs, while also reducing the need for mass use of pesticides or fungicides — which would reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector, while also making for healthier food on our tables.

Scientists develop a ridiculously cheap acoustic tractor beam

Researchers working on acoustic holograms have created a new sonic tractor beam system for less than it costs to get lunch.

Image via Youtube / Nature Videos.

Image via Youtube / Nature Videos.

A little bit — and I mean that literally — of Star Trek has just passed into the real world. Scientists have developed a sonic system which can push or pull on objects just like the show’s famous tractor beams, only much smaller. While the idea of using sound to manipulate objects from afar isn’t new, no one has ever done so using a system as simple and cheap as this. The full device costs a little under 10$ to manufacture.

The device, created by engineers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, consists of just three parts — a 3D-printed plastic disk, a thin plate of brass, and a small speaker which you could probably find in any watch alarm.

“We were genuinely surprised that nobody had ever thought of this before,” team-member Kai Melde told Popular Mechanics.

Acoustic tractor beams work by transferring force to a far-away object through the vibrations of a medium, or what our ears perceive as sound. Last year, University of Bristol engineers developed the first one-sided acoustic tractor beam by slapping 64 small speakers together and tuning them to move bits of polystyrene around. It worked, and was quite awesome to watch, but it was incredibly inefficient and expensive to scale up — each speaker required constant tweaks in the sound-waves it produced to keep the acoustic hologram stable.

So, the Max Planck team decided to try and simplify the device. Instead of using banks of speakers and tuning each one to create the acoustic hologram, they used a single speaker on which they fixed a patterned, 3D-printed plastic filter.

“It worked even better than we hoped,” Melde added.

The hologram they produced was so complex, that they estimate 20,000 unfiltered speakers working together would be needed to achieve something similar.

But there are also limits to the device. It only sends the hologram in one direction and it can’t be angled, meaning that it can move objects around on the pattern it’s designed for but can’t for example push them out of it once they’re in the air. A new plastic disk has to be printed for any new pattern required. And in its current form, the beam only works in two dimensions (moving an object around on a flat plane), so it can’t actually push or pull anything yet.

The team hopes that with further development, these issues can be overcome. There’s a lot of excitement for acoustic tractor beams, as they could revolutionize the way we think of transport, medicine, and a wide range of other fields.

“There’s a great deal of interest in using our invention to easily generate ultrasound fields with complex shapes for localised medical diagnostics and treatments,” lead researcher Peer Fischer told New Atlas. “I am sure that there are a lot of [other] areas that could be considered.”

But for now, the fact that we can create a working tractor beam for less than a good pair of jeans will cost you is simply amazing.

The full paper, “Holograms for acoustics” has been published in the journal Nature.