By: Daniel Stefner, Research Technician, Smart Ag - January 2021

In March of 2020, Olds College secured and purchased a DOT power platform with three compatible implements: SeedMaster 3015 DSR Seeder, Pattison Liquid Systems Connect PLU S120 Sprayer, and New Leader NL5000 Nutrient Applicator. Together the equipment is used for academic, training, farming, research, and evaluation purposes regarding autonomous farm equipment. 

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A Successful Season Using DOT

By: Daniel Stefner, Research Technician, Smart Ag - January 2021

In March of 2020, Olds College secured and purchased a DOT power platform with three compatible implements: SeedMaster 3015 DSR Seeder, Pattison Liquid Systems Connect PLU S120 Sprayer, and New Leader NL5000 Nutrient Applicator. Together the equipment is used for academic, training, farming, research, and evaluation purposes regarding autonomous farm equipment. The main objectives of the multi-year research project are to study the technical, economic, environmental, and social factors associated with the operation of autonomous farm equipment in the Canadian prairies. 

The goal of the 2020 DOT operations was for the team to learn and understand the operational needs and capabilities of the DOT equipment, while collecting baseline data on fuel consumption, field efficiency, and labour requirements. Throughout the season Olds College operated their DOT power platform and its equipment on a number of Olds College Smart Farm fields. To increase the number of available acres for testing and operation, Olds College partnered with Carlson Ag to use DOT on a number of their fields located close to Olds. As a result, DOT was utilized to seed and spray an additional 10 and 1120 acres respectively. 

Olds College also partnered with Pattison Farms to increase the user observed data for DOT, collected throughout the 2020 season. Pattison Farms owns and operates two DOT power platforms with SeedMaster drills, which are identical to the DOT equipment owned by Olds College. Together this partnership enabled the collection of user observed data from 3 autonomous seedings units, which allowed for 530 acres of quality user observed data to be collected.

2020 Season Achievements

  • The Olds College DOT completed 34 missions during the 2020 growing season:

    • Seeding 125.6 acres

    • Spraying 2078.6 acres

    • Spreading 240.7 acres

  • The Olds College DOT completed all required seeding and spraying activities in a 106-acre field of barley at Olds College (Field 15-16).

  • The Olds College DOT was able to finish all missions on the Olds College Smart Farm that it started, without the need for conventional equipment to complete the field activity.

  • The average uninterrupted time of hands-off operation for seeding and spraying were 14.2 minutes and 20.2 minutes respectively. 

  • The longest recorded time of uninterrupted hands-off operation for seeding and spraying was 37 minutes, and 1 hour, 17 minutes respectively. 

Goals and Outcomes

  • Benchmarks regarding fuel consumption, field efficiency, and field productivity have been calculated for 2020 DOT operations.

  • Based on data collected over the 2020 season, it was determined that DOT when paired with the sprayer uses about the same amount of diesel per acre as a conventional pull type spraying equipment. Meanwhile, DOT with the SeedMaster 30’ seeding unit used approximately 157% more diesel than conventional seeding equipment.

  • Data collection and time tracking evaluation methods have been tested and redeveloped by the Olds College and Pattison teams. The new format will ensure a more consistent dataset for statistical analysis of the 2021 season. 

  • The need for operational protocols and standard procedures for DOT operations have been identified, and are in development for the 2021 season.

Lessons Learned

DOT operations experienced and overcame many challenges with the equipment and software throughout the 2020 growing season. With the assistance and training received from the support teams of DOT, Raven Autonomy, and Pattison Liquid Systems, the Olds College team was able to troubleshoot and solve many of the problems experienced this year.

A large and robust team is required to meet the needs of DOT (operation, logistics and transportation, product tendering, data collection, mechanical support, software/GIS support).

DOT works best on land that has no or very few obstacles, and where a line of sight can be maintained between the operator vehicle and DOT during the entire mission. 

The abilities of DOT are based on the initial operator's input, so the effectiveness is determined on preplanning and proper parameters for equipment decision making (mapping of in-field obstacles, operational speed, turning radius, wheel slip).

Next Season Expectations

The plan for the 2021 season is to increase the number of acres that DOT covers, while performing more advanced research based on this season's results, findings, and lessons learned. New systems will be installed and utilized to collect real time machine performance data from the equipment as it is working. It is anticipated that as the team becomes more experienced, and the equipment receives continual software updates and product improvements, that the efficiencies of DOT missions will increase. This will further decrease downtime and which will lead to more efficient field operations and improved fuel use.