The movement toward a self-reliant future in agriculture continues, but the journey often requires partnerships and acquisitions. In the first half of 2021, German equipment manufacturer Horsch partnered with Trimble with the aim of developing autonomous machines.
“We had tried to work with the big companies that were working on autonomy,” says Michael Horsch, founder, Horsch Equipment. “We spoke with ZF, Bosch and Continental, and all three were obviously deeply involved in self-driving sensors, as well as computers and software for the automotive industry.”
These automotive-focused technology providers weren’t the right fit for the farm equipment innovator, but another longtime partner was. Trimble has worked with Horsch for over five years, providing remedial services for the company.
Horsch tells Farm Progress that just over a year ago, Trimble came to Horsch to deepen the conversation about the opportunities of automation. Trimble’s new division is 100% focused on autonomy.
Although these big players in autonomous systems have some interesting technology, they lacked something, according to Horsch, which is essential: “From a security point of view, an important element is a secure geofence with a signal very safe reference. [for GPS equipment]. Trim to that.”
This geofence is essential with off-road equipment, as large implements “leaving the farm” can be much more of a problem than a car or even a tractor-trailer. And that sure benchmark signal, which Trimble continued to upgrade, gave Horsch confidence in a partnership.
“[Horsch] is at the forefront of thought leadership in agricultural work practices,” said Finlay Wood, business line manager for Trimble Autonomous Solutions. “They advance technology in many areas. We are two high-tech companies that are changing the future.”
The focus is on autonomous machines, and Horsch is already working with this technology in Germany. A self-contained seed drill with its own – non-electric – power unit was featured in a company video. The machine has no cabin and its only function is to plant seeds. The system can easily be adjudged by one person, and the seeder can stay on the job.
“We have several different sprayers and many other machines being tested in the field,” says Horsch. This list also includes self-propelled sprayers, grain drills up to 100 feet wide, and a self-propelled drill. Horsch says the company is focused on 40- to 100-foot single-disc and dual-disc seeders and planters, and work is progressing.
On the sprayer side, Horsch is bringing a new sprayer to the North American market for 2022, and it will have Trimble technology included. Horsch is hesitant about self-driving vehicle sales in the United States due to the legal situation. He notes that it is very easy for someone to sue a company because of its technology. “We are very cautious about the North American market,” he says.
The autonomy of a sprayer can however increase the productivity of the operator, even if this one must remain in the cabin. This is a first step towards automating the system.
Guillermo Perez-Iturbe, Marketing Director of Trimble Agriculture adds, “What you have are two technology companies at work. Trimble Collaboration and OEM Knowledge [original equipment manufacturer, like Horsch] brings a better definition around each of the farm vehicles.”
The key, Perez-Iturbe says, is working to create a whole ecosystem on the farm, so devices know where they are, what they’re doing, and what machines might be nearby to create a safer environment. “It’s an additional layer of collaboration in monitoring these vehicles,” he adds.
Horsch is pushing ahead with automation and bringing it to market. Perez-Iturbe feels open to new tools. The autonomy of “human-driven” machines can also increase productivity, which will also benefit North American farmers.
Wood adds, “Our goal is to make the farmer’s life easier, whether we’re steering their vehicle through the field or controlling other parts of the implement. We want to automate the parts of the task that are burdensome or burdensome to the farmer now. .”
The path to self-reliance will require new partnerships. The Trimble-Horsch collaboration facilitates the transition to driverless technology for the future.