Autonomous vehicles and robots are expanding in agriculture because of labor shortages and the need for more precise use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Measurement company Hexagon AB this week said that two of its brands, NovAtel and AutonomouStuff, have developed an autonomous positioning and sensing kit that was demonstrated in its research and development tractor.
Stockholm, Sweden-based Hexagon produces sensors, software, and autonomous systems to improve efficiency, productivity, and quality across applications and industries, including infrastructure, manufacturing, safety, and mobility. The company said it has about 20,000 employees in 50 countries and net sales of $4.4 billion.
Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division develops technology for autonomous vehicles, drones, and other systems on land, sea, and air. NovAtel designs, manufactures, and sells positioning technology that can be rapidly integrated for precision agriculture, said the company. AutonomouStuff provides R&D platforms, sensor fusion products, software, and engineering services for robots and autonomous systems in agriculture, construction, mining, and other off-road applications.
Positioning kit to aid autonomy development
Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division launched the kits that NovAtel and AutonomouStuff developed as part of its Smart Autonomous Mobility offering at CES 2020. With decades of expertise in Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning, autonomy, and safety-critical applications, the brands created these systems with agricultural OEMs and robotic machinery manufacturers in mind.
As a demonstrator vehicle for Smart Autonomous Mobility, the autonomous tractor features object detection and classification, simultaneous relative localization and mapping, absolute positioning through GNSS technology, and localization sensor fusion. The tractor also incorporates safety features for situational and environmental awareness, as well as manual remote control when needed, said Hexagon. This platform validates how these capabilities can accelerate autonomous development, it added.
The positioning and sensing kits are optimized for autonomous agriculture applications, including products like the SMART7 antenna and autonomous capabilities through the NovAtel OEM7 driver powered by the Robot Operating System (ROS).
The kits also feature TerraStar GNSS Correction Services, ALIGN heading and relative positioning firmware, and SPAN GNSS+INS technology. Though designed for agriculture, the kits can integrate seamlessly into other off-road autonomy applications, Hexagon claimed.
Hexagon aims autonomy kit at agriculture
“These positioning and sensing kits provide developers with technology bringing assured positioning to autonomy in agriculture,” explained Michael Martinez, agriculture segment manager at Hexagon-NovAtel. “Robotic machinery manufacturers or those experienced in autonomy may be unfamiliar with the unique challenges facing agriculture applications.”
“Conversely, those experienced with agriculture may not have the expertise to integrate positioning and sensing products within autonomous solutions,” he added. “We can help in both cases through these positioning and sensor kits, as demonstrated by our autonomous tractor.”
The global market for agricultural robots will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.5%, growing from $4.6 billion in 2020 to $20.3 billion by 2025, predicted Markets and Markets.
“We’re excited to use this tractor as a platform to validate the human identification, obstacle detection, and enhanced environmental awareness that our sensing kits add to our assured positioning solutions in agriculture,” said John Buszek, vice president of products and services at Hexagon-AutonomouStuff. “The sensing and positioning technologies we’ve integrated on this demonstration platform showcase the Smart Autonomous Mobility portfolio, which enables and accelerates the development of autonomy in agriculture applications from prototyping to production.”