The Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) is highlighting results of the agtech research & innovation projects it is supporting through its 2022 Open Competition and its Beef & Pork Primary Processing Automation & Robotics Program.
Darrell Petras, CAAIN’s CEO says through the program they look for Canadian companies that are developing technology that will provide significant value to Canadian farmers through artificial intelligence.
An Edmonton-based company Mojow Autonomous Solutions has developed an Autonomous Tractor Kit for Enabling Autonomous Farm Implement Operation.
CAAIN is contributing over $682 thousand to the $2.2 million dollar project that will result in the commercialization of truly autonomous equipment.
Mojow’s EYEBOX platform will allow operators to “fire and forget” their sprayers, seeders, and planters.
In other words, once the job has been programmed into the unit, the tractor it controls will drive itself to the field in question, navigating any roads or entrances it encounters along the way, making the necessary passes, and returning to its starting point without any additional human interaction.
Mojow President, Owen Kinch is a grain farmer who worked off-farm to feed his spirit for technological innovation.
He spent seven years in SeedMaster’s R&D department, before becoming the first employee of the company’s autonomous vehicle spinoff, DOT Technology Corp.
Kinch met his friend and eventual Mojow co-founder, Mojtaba (Moji) Hedayatpour at DOT.
CAAIN notes that autonomous agtech is widely viewed as a key to reducing the agri-food sector’s reliance on increasingly scarce labour.
Kinch notes it is relatively easy to develop machines that can drive up and down fields independently in straight lines but that’s not the entire farming story.
"Three important bottlenecks or complex challenges must be addressed if agricultural machinery is to operate without human intervention. The first is driving the headland autonomously without prior mapping. Second, the equipment must navigate the roads between the fields, and the last big piece is the ability of the tractor to transition seamlessly from road to field using entrances. If it can do all that, a vehicle is truly autonomous.”
The Mojow system employs a series of stereo cameras installed around the vehicle to create a 360-degree unobstructed view of its environment. Everything runs through a proprietary controller called EYEBOX™, which automatically manages frame rates of anywhere between 10 and 30 images per second, depending on the vehicle speed and required job function.
EYEBOX™ is a small, rugged, economical sensor suite outfitted with multiple cameras, a GPS, and a powerful computer that processes data in real time. The system collects images automatically, passing them through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel to create (or update) a digital representation of the entire farming entity (field boundaries and entrances, roads, etc.). This digital twin, or map, of a farm’s physical attributes serves as the foundation (or primary input) of the autonomous navigation controller—the “brain” that guides the machinery and makes it truly autonomous. The continuous intake of real-time image data from the peripherals of the tractor assures a high level of relative position accuracy between the vehicle and any physical object encountered within its working environment.
Mojow intends to start with land rolling and heavy harrowing, thereby proving its concept before adding tools that apply product.
CAAIN notes the system is designed for flexibility, the platform can convert conventional tractors into autonomous vehicles or be integrated into OEM machinery to enhance functionality. Either way, when fully functional, it will reduce a farm’s production costs and reliance on unskilled labour, increasing profitability and productivity.
The support Mojow has received from CAAIN has helped fast-track the development process so that in less than four years, the company is on the verge of introducing a commercially viable product.