What can DOT do in the field?

It’s been a few years since DOT, the autonomous farm robot now owned by Raven Industries, made waves in the ag industry. Now that it’s had a chance to run, how does it fare in the field?

Daniel Stefner, fourth year Bachelor of Applied Science agribusiness major student at Olds College, recently joined Shaun Haney to talk about his directed field study project, which includes working as a technician with DOT.

For those who have maybe never heard of DOT, it is an autonomous farm equipment platform. It’s a cab-less, U-shaped power platform that hooks into different farm implements and is controlled via remote control. So far, there’s a 30-foot seeder, a 120-foot liquid sprayer, and a spreader unit.

So what did DOT do? At Olds College Smart Farm, the application for DOT isn’t just small plots. This past year, DOT was used to seed 126 acres, spray 241 acres for all in-crop applications for a total of just over 2000 acres sprayed. For a 106 acre field of barley, DOT completed all the seeding and spraying missions for 2020.

There were a lot of lessons learned for DOT’s first year. “This initial year, for 2020, that was our goal, just collect some baseline data and learn the capabilities and operational requirements,” says Stefner.

One of the lessons learned was that the system works best on land with few obstacles, to maintain a better line of sight between the controller and DOT. Transporting DOT to the field isn’t a one person job, one person needs to be behind DOT during transport while another operates DOT.

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“As we go forward, we’re looking to increase acres year upon year, so this year our primary focus was just to make sure things were working,” says Stefner. For 2021, the team behind DOT wants to double the acres, preferably close to the college.

As a technician, Stefner’s role is to collect real, in-field data, generating reports, and sending that feedback to Raven and other interested stakeholders. DOT is also used as an instructing tool in the autonomous equipment operations classes.

Stefner hopes to further his work with Olds College’s Smart Ag Innovation Centre after his program. He sees a future where more autonomous tractor work is applied to farming operations — he thinks it’ll be for the “boring jobs,” the rock-picking or work that require more attention.

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