When GPS and GNSS navigation entered the agricultural market in the mid-to-late 1990s, it revolutionized the industry. Some were quick to see the value and embrace the technology. Others were slower to adopt these navigation systems. Fast forward to today and GPS and GNSS technologies are nearly everywhere. From tractors and transplanters to sprayers and harvesters, these systems have become an essential part of helping farmers get the job done.
As the industry moves to implement even more advanced technologies, such as autonomous ag robots, navigation systems alone aren’t enough to help self-driving machines maneuver harsh environments with challenging terrain. That’s where sensor intelligence come into play. Without the ability to truly perceive its surroundings using sensors, autonomous robots would require a near-constant level of operator assistance—thus defeating the purpose of having a self-driving machine in the first place.
SICK, a leader in providing sensor solutions for industrial automation applications, is committed to ensuring ag robots have what they need to provide value in the field and on the farm. While the German-based company is fairly new to the agriculture market, it certainly has the means to accomplish this goal. With 50 subsidiaries worldwide and vast experience in factory, logistics and process automation, SICK knows a thing or two about developing sensor solutions for autonomous robots.
“What we most want to share with our customers is that we have the capabilities to provide the entire solution,” says Vincent Binet, Director of Logistic Automation at SICK. “Previously, it has been a challenge for this market to have a completely safe system in a harsh outdoor environment. You can’t use one sensor to accomplish this goal. You need a sensor to help the driver, another to do the navigation and another in the tires to help change directions to avoid obstacles. SICK is able to provide very accurate sensors for all of these needs.”
After more than two decades working in the indoor market for AGV, SICK has learned what it takes to develop the more rigorous and robust solutions that are mandatory for machines that operate outdoors. Many of the biggest players in the agriculture industry agree. SICK is in contact with the most important major manufacturers of agricultural equipment.
Because there is talk that autonomous tractors developed for 2030 will have the same abilities as self-driving cars, manufacturers need sensors that have speed regulators, lane assist and precise driver navigation. Additionally, these sensors will need to be able to withstand extreme conditions that a self-driving car is less likely to encounter. Binet knows SICK has the expertise to help the next generation of autonomous ag robots rise to the challenge.
“We are known for developing complete sensor solutions for the future,” he says. “Although agriculture is a newer market for SICK, the tractor itself is not new. For the past 10 years, we have worked on developing automation for farming. Because we spent 20 years learning everything we needed to know about the indoor market, we are now approximately in the same place with our solutions for the outdoor market. SICK has always been a leader in providing these types of solutions and it will continue to be.”