Connor Kingman's idea for a driverless tractor system started with a boat he sailed autonomously to an island 32 miles off the California coast. Now he pilots driverless tractors in a Central California wine grape vineyard as he eyes a similar system in pistachios.
Kingman's partner in the technology is Ted Sheely, owner of Azcal Management and a forward-thinking grower of diversified crops in California and Arizona. Sheely hopes to one-day commerically market the technology.
The system uses cameras plus light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to navigate. Kingman says the LIDAR will someday be discontinued as the camera navigation is perfected.
Sheely would also like to see the cameras serve as a means to collect data on plant health, including pest infestations. He also wants to use the system to predict yield based on crop load. Kingman is confident that as this system is developed, yields can be predicted to within 5 percent based on what the camera and software "sees."
The system will be demonstrated at a field day on June 12, starting at 10 a.m. at Azcal Management, 28088 Avenal Cutoff Rd., Stratford, Calif. Sheely intends to have six of the autonomous tractors running at the field day.