Any time self-driving cars are in the news, farmers in the know have a little chuckle: some tractors have been driving themselves for years.
For at least the last five years, farmers have being using self-driving, GPS guided tractors (we call it “auto-steer). With the flip of a switch, the tractor can take over for its driver, ensuring perfectly straight lines up and down the field. When the tractor reaches the end of the field, the driver does need to take control and make the turn — it’s not perfect — but this technology has already had a huge impact. Auto-steer can be found in tractors, combines, and sprayers; by precisely guiding the path of the equipment, auto-steer can minimize overlap when working ground, harvesting, or applying fertilizer or herbicide. Less overlap means less wasted time and fuel, in order to be more environmentally friendly as well as time efficient. Farmers work extremely long hours during planting and harvesting season, so it also reduces the likelihood of exhaustion-related accidents in the field.
At harvest time, this driverless technology goes one step further. A combine can only hold so much grain, so farmers usually have a second driver pulling a grain cart; when the combine is full, it can pour its cargo into the empty cart without even slowing down. The second driver can then unload at a storage area and meet the combine to collect more grain. With GPS and auto-steer, one farmer in the combine can control that entire process without needing a second driver. You can see a driverless tractor in action here: http://farmindustrynews.com/tractors/no-driver-needed-kinze-s-autonomous-harvest-system.