The launch of the autonomous DOT Power Platform this week was the result of a three year quest to make farm equipment more efficient in the context of the labour shortage in farming, says Norbert Beaujot.
The U-shaped robot is attracting plenty of attention at Ag in Motion near Langham, Saskatchewan, with crowds watching as it crawls up and down a demo plot, attaching and detaching from multiple attachments, including a seeder, sprayer, grain cart tank and landroller — all by itself or through a remote control.
In the past, ag manufacturers have addressed the farm labour issue by making bigger equipment to cover more acres in day, but bigger isn’t always better, notes the founder and ‘visionary’ behind DOT Technology Corp in the interview below.
“With big-ness we have evolved inefficiencies,” says Beaujot, who’s also the founder of Saskatchewan-based seeding equipment SeedMaster.
“Besides the inefficiencies of 80 or 100 foot drills, there’s just too much cost for the farmer,” he says. “The other thing is if you get a big unit stuck or it goes down for any reason, his whole livelihood is tied into it, so a loss of a few hours or days is devastating.”
“It got me thinking about ‘how do we do it without labour? And how do we do it at a scale that is efficient and not as risky for the farmer?’ I think that was the essence.”
At the time, Beaujot was imagining an autonomous seeder.
“But when I came up with the thought of the U-shaped platform, and how it could easily be adapted to almost any piece of equipment, that’s when I got excited and filed for patents,” he says.
Beaujot and some of his team spent the next two-plus years gathering information, drawing up ideas, and making contacts in the autonomous vehicle space at places like the CES technology show in Las Vegas. About eight months ago, engineers in the SeedMaster shop started the process of turning these drawings into reality.
The seeder attachment, which is itself another new innovation — a spoked wheel single toolbar design, was finished in May. The other three SeedMaster-branded attachments on display at AIM were only ideas on paper at the Farm Progress Show in Regina in mid-June, but were finished to give farmers and other manufacturers an idea of what’s possible with the ‘open source’ nature of the DOT platform.
— Kelvin Heppner (@RealAg_Kelvin) July 20, 2017
So where will the DOT go from here? Will it revolutionize field work as we know it in North America?
Part of it will depend on how other manufacturers respond to the DOT. Beaujot and the DOT team are encouraging other manufacturers to build ‘DOT-ready’ implements. A grain auger, manure spreader, a different seeder, sprayer, or harrow are just some of the possibilities.
“I’m excited about encouraging somebody to work with us on a planter, and than all of a sudden we’re leap-frogging into Iowa or wherever and working with manufacturers in that area,” says Beaujot.
Price will also be a factor in adoption of the DOT concept, but DOT employees say it will be competitively priced relative to traditional tractor/attachment combinations. It was designed to match the acres of one combine, to have a fit on all sizes of farms. From a cost perspective, it’s also worth noting the cost of many of the components on the DOT have fallen dramatically, and continue to fall, as vehicle manufacturers and suppliers have invested in LIDAR and other sensors for autonomous cars and trucks.
With the initial model built and on display, DOT Tech. Corp is planning to build a handful of units to run on farms near its headquarters just east of Regina in 2018. From there, the next chapter of Beaujot’s idea has yet to be written.
— Kelvin Heppner (@RealAg_Kelvin) July 19, 2017