First driverless tractor for Australian sugar ready to roll, Mackay

Dec 15, 2016 |

The first driverless tractor trial for the Australian sugar industry was demonstrated at the property of local Mackay cane farmer, Steve Young.

The trial put Mackay at the cutting edge of 21st century farming, a true display of the labour-saving possibilities of the future.

Driverless tractor trial at Steve Young's property at Homebush
The trial is taking place on the property of Homebush grower, Steve Young.
Hitachi engineers oversee demonstration of a driverless tractor
Hitachi engineers oversee the demonstration.
Driverless tractor demonstration at Homebush near Mackay
Trial site.
Driverless tractor demonstration at cane farmer Steve Young's property at Homebush
From left Hitachi senior project managers Derrick Thompson and Satoshi Sugawara with Tony Crowley from Farmacist and Dr Ryan Keenan from CRCSI.
Driverless tractor trial in Mackay at Homebush
The technology removes the need for a driver.

The project was conducted by Japanese firm Hitachi and coordinated by local Mackay agricultural group Farmacist, one of Reef Catchments major contracted provider of agricultural precision planning services to the region. It sees the trial of an autonomous robotic tractor at a Homebush cane farm.

This tractor will be guided using a new method of real-time positioning that does not rely on a local base station. High precision machine control is achieved utilising a real-time correction message transmitted by a Japanese satellite without the need for a local radio or access to the mobile network.

The technology can be applied to any tractor and is a potential game changer for our farming future. It is built into a software program that enables a farmer to instruct their tractor to plough, sow, or spray crops automatically.

The technology is being jointly designed by Japan’s Hokkaido University and Japanese firm Hitachi.

It relies upon satellite and GPS signals built into a software program that enables a farmer to instruct a tractor to plough, sow, or spray crops automatically.

Tony Crowley, Farmacist Director said one method being trialled for the autonomous tractor utilised a new satellite system established by the Japanese Space Agency.

“They’ve integrated that with the GPS technology, so we put the run lines in that we use normally and then the tractor operates autonomously, linking with the GPS system as it’s running. This is the next stage — take the driver out of the seat.”

Derrick Thompson, Australian project manager with Hitachi, said driverless tractors were no longer a figment of the future.

“It proves the point that you can actually do this — it’s not science fiction anymore,” he said.

Commercial availability of automated tractors is expected around 2020. The cost is unknown as yet.