Robots on the move
UNITED States market intelligence firm Tractica has painted a picture of a new agriculture paradigm involving autonomous machines.
According to the company, which last week released a report in collaboration with The Robot Report, the market for agricultural robots is developing at a rapid pace.
It says many established and start-up agricultural technology companies are developing, piloting and launching an innovative range of robotic systems to tackle a wide variety of tasks.
Key application areas for agricultural robots include driverless tractors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), material management, field, crops and forest, soil management, dairy management and animal management, with a diverse set of sub-categories emerging within each of those areas.
According to Tractica, shipments of agricultural robots will increase significantly in the years ahead, rising from 32,000 units in 2016 to 594,000 units annually in 2024, by which time the market is expected to reach $US74.1 billion in annual revenue.
Driverless tractors, agricultural drones, material management robot, and soil management robots will drive the highest volumes in unit shipments.
"The rising demand for agricultural robots is being driven by a number of factors including global population growth, increasing strain on the food supply, declining availability of farm workers, the challenges, costs, and complexities of farm labour, changing farmlands, climate change, the growth of indoor farming, and the broader automation of the agriculture industry," Tractica research analyst Manoj Sahi said.
The study also includes 178 profiles of industry players in the agricultural robot market.
An executive summary of the report is available for free download on the firm's website (Google Tractica).
Torque has yet to find predictions on the fate of "human robots".
Goodies v baddies
INCREASING attention on robots has predictability expanded into criminal activity.
According to a report by news agency Reuters last week, a boom in the US in consumer drone sales, has spawned a counter-industry of start-ups aiming to stop drones flying where they shouldn't.
Reuters claims errant drones are either being disabled or knocked out of the sky.
Dozens of start-up firms are developing techniques from deploying birds of prey to firing gas through a bazooka to take on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are being used to smuggle drugs, drop bombs, spy on enemy lines or buzz public spaces.
US consultants say the consumer drone market is expected to be worth $US5 billion by 2021, with the average drone in the US costing more than $US500 and packing a range of features from high-definition cameras to built-in GPS.
Australian authorities relaxed drone regulations in September, allowing anyone to fly drones weighing up to 2kg without training, insurance, registration or certification.
Elsewhere, millions of consumers can fly high-end devices - and so can drug traffickers, criminal gangs and insurgents.
According to Reuters, drones have been used to smuggle mobile phones, drugs and weapons into prisons, in one case triggering a riot.
Armed groups in Iraq, Ukraine, Syria and Turkey are increasingly using off-the-shelf drones for reconnaissance or as improvised explosive devices.
A booby-trapped drone launched by Islamic State militants killed two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and wounded two French soldiers in October near Mosul.
So keep an eye in the sky because what happens in the US almost always happens in Australia (though we're still waiting for our own Donald Trump to emerge).
Trimble makes vertical point
ELECTRONICS manufacturer Trimble has announced the launch of a world-first, patent-pending VerticalPoint RTK system for grade control in agriculture.
The system provides enhanced vertical accuracy and stability of standard single-baseline RTK systems.
VerticalPoint RTK is currently available in North America and Australia as an unlock on the Trimble FmX integrated and TMX-2050 displays and works in combination with the Trimble FieldLevel II system, which streamlines the surveying, designing and levelling steps required for land levelling projects.
The system also includes two stationary supplemental rovers for live, dynamic data collection.
Tyres and tracks
US tyre manufacturer Titan International is making good on its claim at last year's Farm Progress Show in Iowa that its Goodyear Optitrac LSW tyre will lead the way as an alternative to tracks or conventional dual configurations on large 4WD tractors.
Last week it announced the Goodyear LSW 1250/35R46 tyre will be available for selected John Deere tractors, headers and sprayers in the US in 2017.
The 1250 was the world's largest farm tyre until the release of the1400/30R46 in Iowa and Titan is not offering any comment on why the 1250 gets the berth with John Deere and not the 1400.
But it underlines a direction by major US ag equipment manufacturers that could see tracks become a thing of the past - just when the industry was settling in to tracks for almost anything that moved.
LSW stands for low sidewall technology, with the tyre featuring a larger rim diameter and smaller sidewall than a standard tyre, while maintaining the same outside diameter, inflation pressures and weight load capacity.
Goodyear said LSW technology has proven to reduce power hop, soil compaction and road lope (bounce).
The company says tyres versus tracks is no longer a debate.
"Commodity prices are falling," a company statement said.
"Equipment and input costs continue to rise (so) you can't fool around with unnecessary expenses.... with low sidewall technology, that's exactly what tracks are - an unnecessary expense."
There has been no rebuttal yet to those remarks from any of the "majors".