The equipment fleet at Haggerty Creek Ltd., a grain elevator and farm service provider near Bothwell, is gaining autonomy both large and small.
By June, both a Dot Power Platform and RoamIO swarm-style robot will be active members of its equipment lineup.
And, with plans to market at least one of the two autonomous farm implements, additional in-field research is being conducted to ensure both are optimized for the Ontario landscape.
Why it matters: Size determines the capability and practical use of autonomous farm equipment, although some in-field modifications are still required.
“Our initial intention is to actually use it on our own operation,” says Chuck Baresich, general manager of Haggerty Creek, in reference to their recently acquired Dot. Dot was invented in Saskatchewan and is now owned by Raven Autonomy. Haggerty Creek is a Raven Industries dealer.
Assembled at Haggerty Creek on May 12, it’s the first machine of its kind to be commercially used in Ontario. The platform is currently outfitted with a fertilizer cart attachment, and was first employed to apply fertilizer on 150 acres on May 13. According to Baresich, no major problems were experienced, though refinements are required to optimize its practicality.
Because Dot was designed with the wide expanses of Saskatchewan in mind, for example, the platform was originally programmed to only make wide, sweeping turns. However, the machine itself is capable of pivoting sharply, which is much more useful for smaller Ontario fields.
“There’s lots of learning going on,” says Baresich. “It did pretty well. Most issues were just little software things like tuning the engine for more appropriate turning speeds.
“There are little problems, but if you’re OK with that, it’s fine. As long as it’s not slowing down the job.”
Every field in which Dot operates is first mapped using an all-terrain vehicle. Exclusion zones within the perimeter, such as wet areas, are also identified and incorporated into the coverage plan.
Baresich says the perception (safety-stop) system appears to work well, though a secondary manual safety system is also being employed. Baresich emphasizes they are “not quite ready” to leave the platform completely unattended while in operation.
“One of the things we didn’t fully realize is planning what you’re going to do ahead of time,” he says, later adding the Dot can overcome almost any challenge given the right programming.
“Every time it gets to the edge of the field, you’re happy it slows down.”
In the short term, Baresich and his colleagues intend to acquire a corn planter unit for the platform, while continuing to refine its operations.
“Ultimately, we want to sell it, but we need to ensure it works properly here.”
RoamIO – smaller scale for different jobs
A prototype RoamIO autonomous robot, developed by Ontario-based startup Korechi Innovations Inc., was also used by Haggerty Creek staff in March to seed clover.
Baresich says uniform dispersal and complete coverage of 50 acres (450 pounds) was achieved in six hours using a spreading distance of 40 feet, although a wider distance was possible. Some initial challenges were resolved with slight modifications, and no issues with terrain (mud) were experienced.
Baresich believes RoamIO and other smaller-scale technologies have a variety of uses, though each is rooted in improving employee efficiency. That is, allowing people to focus on more valuable jobs by removing the need to spend time on the mundane.
Soil scanning is one such example. He says the robot can be outfitted with optical sensors and programmed to map the field, while employees can take care of core sampling. Field scouting is another potential use, particularly in place of drones and their associated legal requirements.
“It can also carry a little spray tank or fertilizer cart,” says Baresich. “It’s not replacing people. Rather than putting an employee on an ATV and having them drive the field… they can do the work they are supposed to be doing.”
Impressed with the performance and potential versatility of the small, swarm-style autonomous machine, Haggerty Creek has since ordered its own RoamIO — although with slightly larger proportions (45 inches wide, with 60 inch-long tracks). Baresich expects to receive the robot in early June.
“You can’t use Dot to do small fields, scouting, that kind of thing. It’s something we can move more easily, and are less concerned about letting it run on its own,” he says.
“These are the use cases between the small robot and the big one.”
Other robots harder to access
Haggerty Creek is continuing to work with both Korechi Innovations and Raven Industries — the owners of Dot — to work out programming kinks. They are interested in both autonomous technologies, but Baresich says other options are few and far between.
“In terms of getting a robot to use, a lot of other companies just don’t have them. A lot of them are not as far along as they believe,” he says.