Autonomous farm equipment arrives in Ont.

Autonomous farm equipment arrives in Ont.
May 29, 2020

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The Dot machinery is easy to use and will continue to make farming more efficient, the operator says 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

This spring, autonomous farm equipment is rolling through fields in Chatham-Kent. The unit was developed and built in Canada by Dot Technology Corporation, now a part of Raven Autonomy.

“I first heard of (the technology) at the precision ag conference in 2018,” Chuck Baresich, the first Dot operator in Ontario, told Farms.com. He’s the general manager of Haggerty Creek Ltd., a crop input and marketing business jointly owned by Baresich and his brother, and AGRIS Co-operative.

Baresich visited the Dot research farm in Regina last October to see units in action and later arranged for the first unit to come to Ontario. The Dot platform arrived May 13, according to a release from AGRIS Co-operative. 

“The Dot platform and associated technologies will allow farmers to combat labour shortages and improve overall farm operational efficiency,” Wade Robey, executive director of Raven Autonomy, told Farms.com. “Initially the system will require supervision  but it will, in time, provide full autonomy.  This will also allow for the possibility of coordination between multiple Dots doing the same or different functions at the same time in a field, as well as contemporaneous coordination with manned operations.”

“Myself and two of my staff took the training for how to run it,” Baresich said. “It has not been difficult actually. The user interface and the general layout as to how to get it to the field, set it up and deploy it is not difficult at all.”

Because the technology is new, Baresich is communicating with Raven Autonomy staff to work through “growing pains” of adapting the technology to Ontario fields.

“There are some challenges … as soon as you move a machine out of the research farm and into a real-world application, that’s when this stuff shows up,” Baresich said. “I was willing to take that chance and put in some time to make the machine work.”

“Some of the biggest challenges are not making the platform move or complete a task, but understanding and addressing the range of activities that a human being provides in a manned system,” Robey said. “As the technology evolves, the ability of autonomous systems to better sense the quality of the application/task, as well as the ability through AI (artificial intelligence) to make optimization decisions within a job, will improve.” 

“I started with a fertilizer spreader” because I was very familiar with that technology, Baresich explained. “In terms of planning routes and missions, it’s just simpler.”

One of Baresich’s longer-term goals is to use the Dot to plant corn, he added.

Dot developers “have other attachments like sprayers, and they’re working on a rock picker, and they’re working on a grain cart … but that’s down the road,” Baresich said.

Autonomous equipment will continue to grow in utility and popularity in agriculture, Baresich said.

“Once you get out of the mindset that you have to be driving the machine … and once the technology is sort of proven enough that you can leave it unattended, that’ll be the real game-changing event,” he said.

“Raven/Dot intends to continue to improve the functionality of our platforms, add new implements to increase the utility of Dot and also bring forward new systems to allow for additional crop types and use cases to be addressed,” Robey added. “We believe strongly that agricultural machine platforms will continue the natural progression from manned to semi-autonomous to full autonomy in time. However, as noted, we also believe that manned operations will continue to be important, and that they will be part of an integrated solution well into the future.” 

Dot Technology Corporation, Raven Autonomy photo

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