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New approach to an autonomous tractor

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Just what will the future of autonomous vehicles look like? If the folks at Dot Technology Corp., have any say it sure won’t look like a conventional tractor. The company is unveiling its new Dot Power Platform during a major farm show in Canada in July. Farm Progress caught up with the inventor to learn more about the thought process behind this innovative design.

Norbert Beaujot is the farmer/engineer- inventor of this new approach to autonomous power, which features a U-shaped design that actually wraps around specially designed implements. “Initially I was trying to build a self-propelled seeder,” Beaujot recalled. “Then I realized it would be more valuable if the machine could handle all implements.”

He doesn’t recall when he came up with the idea that the Dot Power Platform should be U-shaped, but once he started down that road it all made sense. The platform will only work with implements that are Dot Ready, which means they’re designed for the implement to slide into Dot and connect.

“With this design, implements don’t need wheels or hitches to work,” Beaujot explained. “It takes about 10 seconds for Dot to connect to the implement and a little more time to hook up the hydraulic and electrical connections.”

Implements that are Dot Ready will get savings because they will have no need for axles, spindles, hubs, tires, hitches, folding mechanisms and other features that can add cost. Beaujot estimated that Dot-ready implements could be as much as 20% less in price than conventional versions. The Dot Power Platform itself will be priced about the same as a conventional tractor of similar horsepower, he added.

The U-shaped Dot has four hydraulically powered wheels which use electronically controlled steering to guide the implement through the field on the predetermined path. Power for the machine comes from a 4.5-liter Tier 4 163-hp Cummins diesel engine. And of course there’s a lot of programming involved and sensors to make sure everything operates both safely and efficiently.

Driven by labor

Beaujot is also a farmer and sees the practicality of bringing autonomy to farm equipment. With less available labor in agriculture, it makes sense. “And this technology can bring younger people to agriculture, they already understand the technology,” he added.

Based in Western Canada, Dot Technology Corp. sees the large prairie fields where autonomy would be simple to implement, but Trent Meyer, executive vice president., adds that these tools are scalable up and down for larger and smaller farms. “The size of the power unit means it can work in larger farms and in smaller operations based on the location and the intensity of the farming involved,” he said. “Small farms up to huge farms can see the same kind of savings with this technology.”

Dot Technology Corp.

Norbert Beaujot farmer/engineer- inventor rethought the autonomous power unit and created the Dot Power Platform.

Meyer added that not only is this tech being driven by lack of labor but also the need to find the right labor. Add in the rising pervasiveness of lower cost sensors and autonomous advances for cars and other use means there are opportunities here. “It’s a cross between the price of labor going up and the price of tech going down,” he added.

The Dot platform is going into limited release in 2018, and those initial units will be around the company’s headquarter area in Canada, but Beaujot sees potential for this technology around the world. The next step is engaging implement makers to design machines that are Dot-ready.

“We will talk with shortline companies about making machines that can work with this system,” he said. “Seed Master makes the air seeder that works with this and they could build other implements. We’ll have some other examples at Ag in Motion.”

Ag in Motion is a relatively new outdoor farm show in Saskatchewan where farmers will get their first look at the Dot Power Platform in action.

Looking ahead

Beyond talking with implement makers to make Dot-ready tools, farmer-inventor Beaujot has other ideas as well, including the potential for leader-follower tech. “Someday someone could have three or four of these following a guy in a half-ton with an electronic link,” he said. “We know that technology exists in drones that can follow the user, it’s a matter of working with someone on the link.”

That multi-machine in one field tech offers enhanced productivity while not raising the labor bill. Dot Technology Corp., has already multiple patents granted and pending on this productivity tool.

For more information on this technology, and what Dot Technology Corp. is doing, visit seedotrun.com. And check out the company video about the product below:

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