IOWA -- Driverless tractors have been an idea in agriculture for years, but an Iowa company is the first to make that a reality.
One of the growing problems in agriculture is not having enough people trained to work on the farm, especially since it tends to be seasonal work. Farmers are short handed around the nation and are looking for options to cut costs in a struggling farm economy.
For the last two years, an Iowa company called Smart Ag in Ames has been working on a specifically tailored, driverless tractor.
Smart Ag President Colin Hurd says, "It's taken form now where we're really confident in releasing it on a limited basis."
It cuts out the need for a grain cart driver during harvest, allowing a tractor to drive in between the combine and the semi truck without someone in the cab. Handy, if a farmer is struggling to find someone qualified to move hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dangerous equipment.
Hurd says other autonomous concepts stretch out too far, which is why nothing's been put on the market until now.
"[We're] very focused on doing one thing specifically, and that's delivering a solution for driverless tractors into a very specific market for row crop farms. And by doing that, we've been able to focus in on very specific challenges that we've got in agriculture."
Going specific is simpler. The product works from edge-of-field to combine. When it's full of grain, the semi-truck driver gets in, swaps it to manual, and dumps it. When he leaves to haul the grain to storage, the combine driver can have full control again.
The Smart Ag autonomous kits are on pre-order right now for the 2018 harvest season on a limited basis. They're looking for farmers in a variety of areas, with and without good internet connection. It's about a $30,000 up-front cost with an annual software subscription.
What makes it worth it, according to Smart Ag Chief Technology Officer Mark Barglof, is giving farmers the flexibility to choose between an automated worker or help on the farm.
Barglof says, "As a farmer, I know that some of the concepts that have come up with autonomy are very foreign to us. What we're doing right now is taking the equipment that's already on the farm, putting an after market kit onto it, and then allowing the farmer to use the equipment that they already have."