Cognitive Pilot today announced what it claimed is “the world’s largest autonomous driving project for agricultural machinery” with Rusagro Group LLC. The companies plan to test Cognitive Agro Pilot, a Level 3 autonomous driving system for combine harvesters, tractors, and sprayers.
Moscow-based Cognitive Pilot is a joint venture of Sberbank and Cognitive Technologies Group. The company has been working on automotive, mass-transit, agricultural, smart-city, and 4D radar technologies, as well as integration with third-party systems.
Moscow-based Rusagro Group is one of Russia’s largest agricultural businesses, producing pork, fats, and sugar. Its land reserves include more than 665,000 hectares (1.6 million acres). Rusagro’s partnership with Cognitive Pilot is being carried out within the federal Digital Technologies project, with is part of the Digital Economy of the Russian Federation initiative run by the Skolkovo Foundation.
Cognitive Pilot project applies AI to harvesting
As in other countries, Russia faces shortages of agricultural workers. “But primarily there is a shortage of high-skilled machine operators,” Olga Uskova, CEO of Cognitive Pilot, told The Robot Report. “Our system helps operators to focus not on driving, but more on managing and controlling other harvesting parameters.”
Cognitive Agro Pilot uses artificial intelligence to analyze images from a single video camera, according to Cognitive Pilot. A convolutional neural network designed for agricultural tasks determines the types and positions of objects, builds a trajectory, and sends commands for the combine to perform maneuvers.
This autonomous driving system is different from others, which often use lidar sensors and stereo cameras to govern movement and harvesting, said Cognitive Pilot.
“The use of just one sensor, not three or four as proposed by other manufacturers, allows to reduce the cost of the whole solution by three to five times,” said Uskova. “Other foreign solutions generally use a whole set of sensors in their models, like laser scanners for moving along the field’s edge, stereo cameras for windrows, etc.”
“The solution does not have a GPS navigation system at the core of its control model, which lets it detect obstacles, including people, animals, metallic objects, and stones along the way,” she added. “[Cognitive Agro Pilot can] operate in territories with a weak satellite signal.”
“With the help of this system, the combine independently moves precisely across the field and doesn’t skip anything like it happens when manual work is in progress,” said Marat Islamov, a farmer in the Kurgan region. “It’s especially useful during nighttime, when it’s dark. The system allows us to harvest day and night.”
Rusagro a significant rollout
The companies said that the project is “the world’s largest one-time robotization project for agricultural machinery in four climatic zones within one agricultural holding.”
The Cognitive Agro Pilot software and hardware will be installed in 242 combine harvesters used by Rusagro in the Belgorod, Tamboov, Kursk, and Orel regions, as well as in Primorsky Krai, said the companies. The first systems will be installed next month, with autonomous systems rolled out over 2020 and 2021.
“The scale of the signed contract, which represents the world record for the automation of the fleet of agricultural machinery, reflects the demand for this type of technology and will help accelerate the development of this competence in the country,” said Alexander Vedyakhin, first deputy chairman of the board of Sberbank.
“The use of an autonomous control system during harvesting will minimize the risks of negative human factors and will optimize the use of combine harvesters,” stated Roman Shkoller, CEO of the Agriculture Business Division at Rusagro. “It’s noteworthy that the industrial introduction of the system fell in a year when a record harvest of wheat is expected in Russia. We have used all the necessary resources to show a decent result at this year’s harvesting campaign.”
The equipment to be installed on Rusagro’s harvesters includes an automatic control unit, a video camera, a display screen, and a set of connecting cables.
Rusagro, farmers expect autonomous driving performance
According to the contract between Cognitive Pilot and Rusagro, the system must perform safe autonomous movement in plowed or unplowed ground and mowed or unmowed fields. Cognitive Agro Pilot will also automatically detect obstacles and warn the combine operator when a machine leaves its route in cases of manual operation. In addition, farmers will be able to monitor the movement of each equipped combine on the track in real time.
“The presence of an operator in the cabin during harvesting will still be mandatory,” said Uskova. “However, the system will allow the operator to focus more on [parameters such as] the angle of the header, setting the threshing process, and grain cleaning.”
“The edge grip while operating with the Cognitive Agro Pilot is stable; it does not exceed 20 cm [7.8 in.] to avoid excessive passages and fuel losses,” she explained. “In general, the use of the system can reduce the cost of grain by 3% to 5% and reduce its losses during harvesting by two times.”
“This technology facilitates the work of the machine operator,” stated Victor Karbyshev, director of the agro enterprise in the Tomsk region. “If he turns the steering wheel himself, he gets tired more. And with the system, he is a controller, sitting in the cockpit. Labor productivity increases up to 20%.”
“Improving the efficiency of agricultural enterprises through the use of the latest technologies of autonomous driving will lead us to a new level of productivity — a new quality of work for the entire Rusagro team,” said Vadim Moshkovich, chairman of the board of Rusagro.
“Our strategy is aimed at increasing EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] per hectare,” said Shkoller. “In fact, this is an analogue of unit economy in agricultural business.”
Cognitive Pilot plans for global expansion
The Cognitive Agro Pilot system has already been installed and tested in the U.S., Brazil, and China, as well as in several Russian regions. When will it be available for purchase outside of Russia?
“Immediately after the restrictions related to COVID-19 are removed, we will start active sales abroad,” Uskova replied. “The main task is to find local partners in each country for installation of the system and maintenance. We’re considering launching international sales in fall 2020.”
“Software and hardware modules for one harvester cost about $9,000 U.S.,” she said. “In the future, we plan to develop a fully driverless system.”