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Rabbit Tractor autonomous tractor
ROBOT TRACTOR: Zack James believes small autonomous robots could do many jobs that larger equipment does today. He offers custom cover crop seeding and soil sampling with his Rabbit Tractor.

One man's dream for future of farming

This entrepreneur envisions a swarm of small robotic "tractors" doing various tasks on their own.

When AgriNovus Indiana featured panel discussions with startup companies and established businesses at an annual summit in November, Zack James and his Rabbit Tractors startup was on a panel.

In fact, James was one of four would-be entrepreneurs who made a mock pitch to a panel representing the type of people who invest in venture capital projects. He also pitched his idea to some 500 farmers and agribusiness people in the audience. The panel of experts didn’t select his startup as the one they would most likely invest in if the simulation were real, but everyone who presented, including Rabbit Tractors, got at least one vote as the company to invest in.

Since then, James has displayed his product in as many places as possible, including the Indiana Farm Bureau annual convention in French Lick, Ind., and the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry in Indianapolis. Wherever he goes, his small “tractor” draws attention.

The idea

James, Cedar Lake, Ind., believes small autonomous robots have a place in farming in the future. While they may never replace large machines for some tasks, he is drawn to their advantages.

“We’re looking at less soil compaction and more in-field efficiency,” James says. “We also see less travel time as a benefit, plus less downtime for maintenance.”

The unit he builds features four-wheel, all-electric drive with omnidirectional steering and a run time of more than five hours on one charge. It uses brushless electric motors and features a modular design, which allows it to collapse down to fit within 30-inch rows.

Eventually, James envisions several of these units working in the same field, all autonomous and all with the ability to communicate with each other. He calls it “swarm farming,” and believes it will find a home in the not-too-distant future.

The reality

If you’re not ready to buy a small autonomous robot that may carry the name Rabbit Tractor, but looks nothing like a 21st century farm tractor, maybe you would at least consider letting it work on your farm.

Right now, James is promoting services for 2020 that his unit can complete. You can contract with him to have his robots do the work when the time is right.

He’s offering cover crop seeding for later this year — either between the rows or over the top, as long as the crop isn’t over 40 inches tall. He can vary ground clearance from 24 to 40 inches on the robot frame. He also offers soil sampling and guarantees the robot can pull samples to the same depth each time.

James has already performed both services and is signing up acres for them now. Learn more and get price quotes at rabbittractors.com.

What does the future hold? James is currently testing a smart sprayer system and hopes to have it ready for 2021.    

TAGS: Crops
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