ALTHOUGH still some years away from production, Renault has developed an operational prototype of an automatic guidance system for tractors.
Working in partnership with French research organisations Cemagref and LASMEA, the system uses a new form of GPS navigation.
Kinematic GPS is claimed to have an accuracy to the order of a few centimetres in three dimensions and is already employed in civil engineering – for large bridge construction, for example. Placing such a system on board a tractor opens up the way for innovative functions which make it possible to assist the operator in guiding the tractor over a field.
Renault says that two modes of operation will be available: The tractor is guided automatically in a field after recording the shape of the field, the entry point and the width of the implement being towed. The route to be followed is then calculated automatically.
Alternatively, the operator carries out a complete sequence of the work required – a single bout of ploughing, mowing, drilling etc including headland turns. This information is recorded and is then reproduced automatically. Data can be transferred to the office computer where it can be enhanced in respect of precision farming techniques – applying varying amounts of fertiliser to specific areas, for example.
Clever as this system would appear to be, Renault is not advocating that tractors become driverless. The company says for safety reason it is essential that a driver is retained – he will be able to concentrate on monitoring the quality of the work being performed. Renault expects the system to be available in 2003.