Aug 232011
 
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When the Kinze autonomy system arrives, it will be aimed at solving one of farming’s most persistent problems: the scarcity of good help.

Her father’s patented inventions made Kinze Manufacturing synonymous with grain carts and plows.

Now 33-year-old Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch is taking Kinze Manufacturing Inc. deep into agriculture’s future of drone equipment.

Last month Kinze demonstrated to dealers its new “autonomy” system, developed with Jaybridge Robotics of Cambridge, Mass., which uses guidance communications systems to allow tractors to run without human operators.

The drone tractors, commanded either by preprogramming or by the farmer on a combine or at another location, can pull planters in the spring or grain carts in the fall alongside the combines for “dump on the run” harvesting.

For two years Kinze and Jaybridge tested the system for detecting obstacles such as fence posts, stand pipes, farm animals and other vehicles.

Remote-controlled tractors are far removed from the little welding shop Jon Kinzenbaw opened in Ladora in 1965, when he leveraged $5 in cash and a $3,655 bank loan into what now is one of the nation’s largest farm implement companies.

But according to Veatch, the spark for the autonomy system came from the vision of her dad, an inheritor of Iowa’s great tradition of farmers/tinkerers.

“About 10 years ago, Dad started thinking that the future of agriculture wasn’t necessarily in bigger equipment, but in autonomous drones,” Veatch said.

Precision farming is old hat now, with farmers using global positioning systems to guide tractors and combines. But it still has been confined as an aid to the farmers in the tractor or combine cab.

While operator-less mining, construction and military aircraft have become more common, drones haven’t yet advanced into remote-controlled tractors that could move across the fields without a human sitting in the cab.

Beyond demonstrating the drone technology for its dealers, Kinze isn’t putting out further details, like when the system will be available at retail and for what price.

New system could fill gap for skilled workers

When the Kinze autonomy system arrives, it will be aimed at solving one of farming’s most persistent problems: the scarcity of good help.

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