A North Dakota Man Reinvents the Tractor: Autonomous Tractor Corporation’s “Spirit”
Is this the future of tractors? “Spirit” is a diesel-electric tractor modeled after a diesel locomotive engine.
There is no cab because this autonomous tractor’s inventor, Terry Anderson, thinks that a penthouse cab would be an unnecessary and useless expense, given the driverless technology. There is also no drive train or transmission. Its simple lattice steel frame is made out of I-beams and square tubing which can be cut, welded, and painted robotically. Anderson fashioned this 8.5 foot-wide, 9 foot-high tractor after a locomotive with an electric-diesel drive system. Two 202 horsepower Isuzu four-cylinder diesel engines generate electricity to four motor drives on the wheels which run the 25″ Bridgestone rubber tracks. It weighs 25,000 pounds.
A fuel tank of 520 gallons should allow the “Spirit” to run for 36 hours. A ballast tank allows for the tractor to increase or decrease its weight by 4,000 pounds.
Anderson doesn’t think GPS is accurate enough, so his autonomous tractor uses on-the-ground APS (area positioning system) technology for its guide system. APS is a military-inspired positioning system and is a wholly owned subsidiary of ATC. This company started devising its own control system seven years ago, which uses computers, laser and radio to control the tractor within a fraction of an inch and can control up to sixteen tractors at once. This system requires control towers having a 25-mile range, or a portable hand controller. The controllers take readings 10 times per second for adjusting power to the right or left.
Anderson believes there is a need for autonomous tractors due to the skilled labor force lacking in rural areas. The company is working with a farmer in Brazil who has 1.5 million acres and they can set the farm up using just four control towers. There are many safety features built into their controller system.
To get this tractor into a field, it will follow a pickup or another tractor accurately when put on “follow me” mode. By (secret) design, it will never leave the field that it is assigned to. It can be used to pull a grain cart, or till independently. A two-hundred horsepower drive to power a fan, mower, or auger will be available from the front or back and this tractor will accept common European-style implements. Separate implements can be used in the front and back, such as a combination of seeding with tillage or roller equipment.
“Spirit” will provide an option to the overly-elegant, modern but “expensive, inefficient, difficult to transport, complicated to operate and unserviceable except by the most highly trained mechanics” tractor of today, according to its software developer. The simple diesel-electric engines provide for a lower initial cost and lower long-term maintenance. They tout a two-hour repair time to replace any component, provided the part is available. The parts inventory for this tractor has been kept to a minimum. Quick serviceability would have a huge appeal to farmers who often have a small weather window of opportunity to get field work done.
“Spirit’s” life expectancy is 25,000 hours with suggested maintenance every 500 hours.
Production of this tractor is to begin in March of 2013 and 25 to 100 of these will be produced out of a plant in Fargo, North Dakota the first year of production. The company plans to build five more assembly plants in North America. They plan to operate without dealerships. The cost is expected to be $500 per horsepower, or $200,000 for a 400 horsepower tractor. That is about half the cost of conventional high horsepowered tractors.
Terry Anderson holds a number of patents and has started and sold a few companies already in his lifetime. He’s been working on this driverless tractor system for thirteen years. His last company reportedly sold for $1.8 billion.
Company website: Autonomous Tractor Corporation (ATC), Fargo, N.D.
Note to regular readers: Sorry for this rare duplicate post today but there was a technical problem so that the previous posting became inaccessible.