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Help Me Understand Autonomous Driverless Tractors

We want to help you understand autonomous driverless tractors.

Also, note we are also here to help you select the perfect tractor for your homestead when the time comes.

Let's get started.


Autonomous tractors are driverless tractors.

These tractors deliver a high tractive effort (or torque) at slow speeds for the purposes of tillage and other agricultural tasks.

Autonomous tractors operate without the presence of a human inside the tractor. Like other unmanned ground vehicles, they are programmed to independently observe their position, decide speed, and avoid obstacles such as people, animals, or objects in the field while performing their tasks.

The various driverless tractors are split into full autonomous technology and supervised autonomy. They use GPS and other wireless technologies to farm land without the need of a driver --- operating simply with the aid of a supervisor monitoring the progress at a control station or with a manned tractor in lead.


The idea of a driverless tractor has been around since as early as 1940.

Frank W. Andrew invented one.

To guide his driverless tractor, a barrel or fixed wheel would be put in the center of the field, and around it would wind a cable attached to a steering arm on the front of the tractor.

In the 1950s, Ford developed a driverless tractor called "The Sniffer." They gave up on it because it required running wire underground throughout the field.

In 1994, engineers at the Silsoe Research Institute developed the picture analysis system, which was used to guide a small driverless tractor designed for vegetable and root crops. This new tractor could even handle slight headland turns.

Current driverless tractor technologies build on recent developments in unmanned vehicles and agricultural technology.

Precision Agriculture

In the 1980s, Precision Agriculture was a major shift in technology.

The result was that farmers drove with the aid of GPS devices and on-board computers. Precision Agriculture focuses on maximizing returns while using minimum resources. With the aid of GPS devices and computers, farmers could use tractors more efficiently.

Semi-automated Tractors

Next, engineers worked on semi-automated tractors.

These tractors had drivers, but the drivers only had to steer at the end of each row. Subsequently, the idea of a driverless tractor emerged in 2011 and 2012.

Driverless tractors were initially created to follow a main tractor (with a driver). This allowed one driver to do twice as much work using what is called "follow-me" technology. The driverless tractor would follow a lead tractor between fields just like a hired-hand would. Today, driverless tractor technologies have moved toward autonomy, or independent functioning.


The driverless tractor is part of a move to automate farming.

Currently, autonomous technologies include automatic milking and automatic strawberry pickers.

For driverless tractors to be successful, they must be able to follow deterministic tasks (a task that is defined before it starts, such as a path to follow on a field), have reactive behavior (the ability to react to an unknown situation such as an obstacle in the way), and have reflexive responses (making a decision without hesitation or time-consuming calculations such as changing the steering angle if necessary).

Ultimately, the tractor should imitate a human in its ability to observe spatial position and make decisions such as speed.


The technology for the driverless tractor has been evolving since its beginnings in the 1940s. There are now different approaches to building and programming driverless tractors --- full autonomy and supervised autonomy.

Full Autonomy

Autonomous tractors typically navigate using lasers that bounce signals off several mobile transponders located around the field. These lasers are accompanied with 150 MHz radios to deal with line-of-sight issues.

The tractors have controllers. Controllers are people that supervise the tractors without being inside them. These controllers can supervise multiple tractors on multiple fields from one location.

Another fully autonomous tractor technology involves using the native electrical (or CAN bus) system of the tractor or farm equipment to send commands. Using GPS positioning and radio feedback, automation software manages the vehicle's path and controls farming implements.

A retrofitted radio receiver and on-board computer are generally used to receive commands from the remote command station and translate it into vehicle commands such as steering, acceleration, braking, transmission, and implement control.

Sensor technologies such as lidar improve safety by detecting and reacting to unforeseen obstacles.

Supervised Autonomy

Tractors that function with supervised autonomy (automated technology, but with a supervising operator present), use vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology and communication.

There is a wireless connection between the two tractors to exchange and share data. The leading tractor (with an operator) determines the speed and direction. It is then transmitted to the driverless tractor to imitate.


The driverless tractor is still being worked on to improve safety and public acceptance.

A driverless tractor makes some people nervous.

Creating a new driverless technology that is safe, takes time.

As far as motion detection --- the driverless tractors have sensors to stop them if they detect objects in their path such as people, animals, vehicles, or other large objects.

If you need any further help or have any questions about technology, tractors, or anything else, please contact your dealer, local mechanic, or call us at 602-734-9944. Please ask about our current new and used tractor supply.

Team Tractor and Equipment - #1 Tractor Dealer in Arizona. We sell and service most major brands of tractors including Yanmar, Kubota, John Deere, TYM, Mahindra, Kioti, Case, New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Ford, Deutz, Case IH, Farmall, International Harvester, Branson Tractors, LS, Shibura, Claas Tractor, McCormick Tractors, Valtra, Solis, YTO, Montana, and Nortrac.

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