In 2017, walking through the Fendt Exhibit at Agritechnica a visitor would come upon a small, four-wheeled white and green box. The little Xaver autonomous vehicle, sitting in the shadow of the new Ideal combine, also rolled out that year, did seem small. But this prototype tool is evolving and during a global product launch Oct. 7, Fendt shared an update of the Xaver, in its second generation design.
At the global launch, international media got their first look at the Fendt 1100 series tractors, an update on the Ideal combine, and a rollout of the European versions of the Momentum planter – all machines that have already been introduced in the United States. Xaver represents new technology that Heribert Reiter, vice president and managing director, research and development, says "can be operated anywhere in the world where the cloud exists" and includes some added innovations as development continues. And as a historical note, the name Xaver comes from the name of company founder Xaver Fendt.
Roland Schmidt, vice president, Fendt Marketing, discussed continuing work on the automated machine. "With the Xaver research project we have been able to make some progress," he explains.
The compact, four-wheeled 'container' design has given way to a three-wheeled approach that looks like what it is, a single planter unit ready to hit the field on its own. The three-wheeled design also allows for a larger seed unit for improved precision.
In fact, U.S. farmers will recognize the planter unit included in each Xaver machine. "The seeder unites with our Agco sister brand Precision Planting," he says.
This approach merges the prototype automaton with planter technology with what Schmidt calls proven precision. The electric metering system provides the precision Fendt engineers need. And the company is aiming to pair each unit with Smart Firmer technology too. "[The unit] can be equipped with sensors to capture soil data, temperature information, humus content to improve precision at planting," he says.
Taking a swarm to plant
The Xaver project is designed to help reduce compaction by putting many smaller machines in the field versus one larger machine. "We will be using a swarm with Xaver," Schmidt says.
With a swarm multiple machines go into the field to perform a single task like tillage, spraying or planting. This reduces individual machine size but increases complexity of tracking and management. The swarm is managed by the FendtONE interface, and the user can run the swarm using an iPad. The system relies on the Fendt Cloud for information sharing.
LOOKING BACK: This unit, introduced in 2017, is the first-generation prototype of the autonomous planting system. This unit did earn an innovation award at Agritechnica.
The three-wheel approach, using larger wheels, increases ground contact, and provides greater clearance and more precise depth guidance. Ballasting can be boosted as high as 500 pounds per unit if needed. In addition, Schmidt says that the hopper size has been increased and battery life extended too.
The machine can now plant up to 1.5 hours on a charge, then return to a catering and supply station at the field edge to regroup and head back out.
Seed tank capacity is boosted to 20 liters, which is just over a half bushel capacity per unit. The company says that's the capacity needed to seed a half hectare, or about an acre and a quarter, at up to 45,000 seeds per acre. Based on these numbers a swarm of six Xaver robots moving through a field can cover nearly 7.5 acres per hour but add in loading/catering and that falls to just under 5 acres per hour. Yet this is round-the-clock, autonomous use.
When talking sustainability, especially from a European perspective, the Xaver has a significantly lower carbon footprint because it is electric. The unit also has limited compaction which can boost soil health. Ground pressure is up to 80% lower than a conventional planter system.
While not being launched commercially, this second-generation machine looks more ready for prime time. For farmers, the concept may not make a strong broadacre use case yet. But it does offer a new option for farms with smaller field sizes.
Fendt continues its work on autonomous tractors, but Reiter says Xaver is an autonomous vehicle, and notes other technologies "are in development and still in the research stage."
The Xaver website has not yet been updated with new images but does show how the concept would work in practice. Visit fendt.com/int/xaver for more information.