© DR Agreenculture offers to control all kinds of autonomous agricultural machines remotely.
The young company Agreenculture wants to offer farmers the opportunity to control all kinds of autonomous agricultural machines, remotely. She hopes to launch this innovative service by September 2021.
Why are there no tractors without drivers in the fields yet? For Christophe Aubé, the answer is clear: 1% of the tasks carried out there by the farmer cannot be modeled and delegated to an automaton. For example, checking the condition of a plow at the end of the field.
It would therefore be these short but crucial operations that require the farmer to stay behind the wheel for long hours, not always very rewarding. Christophe Aubé’s solution? Perform these small tasks remotely, using cameras at the front and rear of the vehicle.
In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, her start-up, Agreenculture, began the development of a secure remote operation (control and remote control) service for agricultural robots and tractors in the fields, she said. announced in Agra specialized agency on 1 January.
By September, she hopes to offer farmers the opportunity to monitor and control, from their smartphone, a tractor made autonomously, or – if they wish – to entrust this task to a team of teleoperators. All at a distance of up to 600 km.
7,500 € per machine
The cost of the equipment is estimated at 7,500 € per machine; it has fallen sharply in recent years. As for the price of the teleoperation service, it has not yet been fixed but could be around 100 € per month.
The first practical question raised by this innovation is that of the network, which is often lacking in rural areas. No major problem, says Agreenculture. 3G is sufficient for this service and the start-up ensures that most of the agricultural area is covered thanks to a multi-operator solution.
The second question is that of security: Our unit introduces security components, the information exchange is also integrated, assures Christophe Aubé. This is obviously very important because we allow a remote person to take control of a robot.
One of the advantages of remote operation, notes Agreenculture, is also to go beyond regulatory safety issues, which hold back some manufacturers: By doing the telemonitoring and remote operation, we go beyond the strict regulatory framework of autonomy. , because we always have information on the state of the vehicle and we can intervene directly.
If its analysis is correct and its service breaks through, the start-up sees it as a way of further pushing the performance of small agricultural robots, the number of which has already reached 300 to 400 in French fields. But also autonomous tractors, the distribution of which has so far remained very confidential.
The first reason is that no major tractor manufacturer has yet launched commercially, with the exception of Kubota in Japan. Operators like John Deere or Fendt have remained in the state of concept vehicles. But in the land of the rising sun, twenty examples of Kubota autonomous tractors have been sold since 2017, and twenty rice combine harvesters since 2018. It should be noted that, as is the case for small agricultural robots in Europe, an operator must remain physically present nearby.
While waiting for other tractor operators to get started, few farmers have dared to make their tractors autonomous themselves. Some start-ups offer it, Bear Flag Robotics in the United States, Precision Makers in Europe. But they remained confidential, especially present in the United States or Australia.
Beyond the cost and logistics aspects – agricultural vehicles have no exemption for driving on roads in autonomous mode – the development of machines comes up against regulatory aspects. Several projects are underway, in Brussels and Geneva to clarify the rules and push further autonomy in the field.
The European Commission is currently integrating new technologies (machine learning, cybersecurity, etc.) into the so-called Machinery Directive, which concerns both milling machines and airplanes. And the international organization for standardization will soon receive proposals from agricultural robot manufacturers to revise the ISO 18 497 standards, which is dedicated to them. Several additions are proposed, including the following: agreeing on a light signal, the same everywhere in the world, which would indicate whether the vehicle is working or not.