The January Wallaces Farmer magazine cover story is drawing comment and questions from readers. The article also ran on the magazine’s website. It’s about an Iowa technology company that has unlocked the tremendous potential for automation in agriculture by developing the first cloud-based platform for driverless tractors.
Smart Ag, a startup company located at the Iowa State University “Start Up Factory” in Ames, recently announced it is releasing on a limited basis, the first application for the platform, called AutoCart. This software application fully automates a tractor pulling a grain cart, to provide farmers some much needed assistance during the harvest season. The system was tested last fall on some farms.
1st cloud-based platform for driverless tractors
Click on this video of the driverless AutoCart in operation here to see and learn how it works in the field. This video will help answer readers’ questions.
Colin Hurd, a 28-year-old ag entrepreneur who graduated from Iowa State University in 2013 with an ag business degree, is founder and CEO of Smart Ag. He says the innovative technology will allow farmers to automate their existing equipment and maximize its efficiency and capacity regardless of manufacturer.
"Farming should no longer be defined by what the equipment industry decides is better or more profitable. We believe agriculture is best when farmers have choices," Hurd says. "The best way to improve our customers' operational capacity is to enable them to use automation and driverless technology on their farms. With the correct technology and knowledge, farmers can do the seemingly impossible."
Autonomous grain cart helps solve labor shortage
Over two years in development, AutoCart, along with the tractor automation kit, is a plug-and-play system that automates existing grain cart tractors and is compatible with any brand or combination of brands. The system allows a combine operator to set staging and unloading locations in a field, adjust speed, monitor location and command the grain cart to sync precisely to the speed and direction of the combine. After it is loaded, the AutoCart automatically returns to an unloading point elsewhere in the field.
Hurd says the AutoCart application provides a solution to one of the biggest challenges facing every farmer – critical labor shortages during harvest. Smart Ag's driverless tractor technology "empowers farmers to leave the cab" and complete their operations faster and with less labor than ever before, he says.
"AutoCart performs the same function as a driver, only it is more profitable, more reliable and safer," Hurd adds. "Our technology has the potential to bring significant change to U.S. crop production through improved productivity, profitability and safety."
System worked well in on-farm tests
Smart Ag recently completed a comprehensive beta test of AutoCart on Midwest farms during the corn and soybean harvest. One of those test sites was Kyle Mehmen's fifth-generation MBS Family Farms near Plainfield in northeast Iowa. "The AutoCart system performed extremely well for us during our corn harvest, and I fully expect it to be a game changer for agriculture," Mehmen says. "These are the kind of technologies that we're going to adopt on our farm one way or the other. It's simply a matter of when and which ones."
The AutoCart technology is now available on a first-come, first-served basis through the Smart Ag website smart-ag.com. Hurd says the cost of the system is comparable to retrofitting a sprayer or planter with precision technology.