First of all, what is an autonomous vehicle (AV)? The SAE provides classifications that many industries use for vehicular products. For automated driving, SAE has five classifications for on-road vehicles. In SAE J3016, Level 1 through Level 5 define increasing amount of automation and Level 0 designates no automation. Level 3 through Level 5 provide information that is more useful for today’s industrial vehicles. Three industrial areas that are already being targeted for vehicle automation are agriculture, lift trucks and mining. In some cases, the autonomous efforts have been occurring for decades.
Agriculture / Autonomous Farming
John Deere built its first autonomous navigation system in the 1990s. Since then, its efforts have expanded to include preparing the soil, planting the seed, protecting the crop and harvesting it. Regarding the sensing aspects of these systems, Dan Leibfried, director of embedded solutions at John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, has said, “We have to have the ability to sense everything the human would inside of the system related to the quality of the job.”
Today, GPS and other location tracking sensors, image sensors, and telematics assist John Deere vehicles automated navigation. For example, the S700 combine (the feature image for this blog) automatically adjusts its harvesting equipment based on a visual assessment of the crop. However, the farmer sits in the tractor and has a camera to view the process – just in case. This would make it an SAE Level 3 AV.
The next part of this blog (Part 2 and Part 3) will address another autonomous farming application as well as lift trucks and mining. All of these areas are well controlled environments that do not need the extensive mapping and understanding of varying traffic rules that impact autonomous road vehicles.