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Lindner_Lintrac tractor small

ZF testing driverless tractors and combine harvesters using new AI computing device

ZF, the German company known worldwide for its automotive technology, has launched a new computing device specifically aimed at making combine harvesters, tractors and other farming vehicles more autonomous.

The new device, which features artificial intelligence, is called the “ZF ProAI” processor unit.

The company will be demonstrating the new technology at Agritechnica, an event to showcase agricultural machinery. 

The ZF ProAI processor unit – which can also be used in road-going vehicles – is the first result of the cooperation between ZF and the IT-specialist Nvidia, and is an important step towards autonomous driving, says ZF.

ZF says the ProAI device (pictured below) enables vehicles to “understand” their environment by processing and interpreting sensor data using deep-learning methods.

ZF_ProAI ai computer
ZF’s new ProAI computing device for autonomous driving, developed with Nvidia

In addition to making tractors and farm vehicles smarter, the two companies are working on solutions for highly-automated and fully-automated driving and operations including automated driving functions for cars and commercial vehicles as well as applications for industrial technology.

Highly automated functions for agricultural applications are being developed with a combination of cameras, lasers and radars from ZF and its collaboration partners.

Automated driving in grassland

Safety, and reducing the driver’s workload, as well as process automation, are all becoming more and more important for the agricultural sector.

This is why ZF is working with the tractor manufacturer Lindner Traktoren to develop the TracLink Pilot, which enables highly automated driving functions for the Lintrac 110.

The vehicle is designed so that it can be retrofitted for automated driving as soon as it will be legally permitted. (See main picture.)

The technology is currently going through an intensive test phase towards series production.

“Our experience with a test vehicle based on the former model Lintrac 90 shows how agriculture can benefit from the megatrends, networking and artificial intelligence,” says Dr Mark Mohr, head of the automated operations project house at ZF, about the tractor that ZF has equipped with a range of intelligent systems.

“With a set of cameras, lidar and radar sensors from ZF’s cooperation partners whose signals are processed by the high-performance electronic unit ZF ProAI, the tractor features a 360-degree surround view system with integrated pedestrian recognition.

“An additional GPS/IMU-based navigation system connected to the steering, the hydraulic implements and the in-house CVT (continuously variable transmission) enables automated field operations. The emergency stop is achieved by controlling an electro-mechanical parking brake.”

Automated driving functions for increased productivity

ZF says the Lintrac offers several driving functions with which it performs “fully automated”. For instance, the tractor is driverless able to follow a vehicle driving in front.

The so-called “copy-paste” function goes a step further: the tractor can repeat automatically any field operation that is previously carried out and recorded by the operator beforehand.

This means that the system can take over the throttle, the steering and the hay tedder while the farmer devotes himself to other tasks.

Driver assistance functions

A sensor-based assistance system recognizes cutting edges, field boundaries as well as swaths and automatically keeps the tractor on track.

For instance, the driver can concentrate on the baler while the pickup press is optimally guided over the swath for even filling. This increases productivity and saves both time and fuel.

All these functions can be monitored and activated by means of a mobile device (tablet, smartphone) with a related app.

Safety through surround-view and object-detection

Automated driving requires a high degree of safety. This factor was taken into account for the test vehicle.

Dr Mohr says: “Thanks to the integrated ZF cameras, the vehicle has a 360-degree view of the surroundings and pedestrian / obstacle detection capability.

“The surround-view system stops the vehicle immediately in the event of sudden obstacles and informs the farmer through a mobile device.

“In addition, with the aid of BLE TAGs from the ZF Openmatics telematics platform, the tractor is able to recognize which implement is mounted on the front and rear hydraulics.

“Automated driving functions can only be activated if the implements are connected correctly.”