A Conceptual Design and Economic Analysis of a Small Autonomous Harvester

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Virginia Tech


Current trends in agricultural equipment have led to an increasing degree of autonomy. As the state of the art progresses towards fully autonomous vehicles, it is important to consider assumptions implicit in the design of these vehicles. Current automation in harvesters have led to increased sensing and automation on current combines, but no published research examines the effect of machine size on the viability of the autonomous system. The question this thesis examines is: if a human is no longer required to operate an individual harvester, is it possible to build smaller equipment that is still economically viable?

This thesis examines the appropriateness of automating these machines by developing a conceptual model for smaller, fully autonomous harvesters. This model includes the basic mechanical subsystems, a conceptual software design, and an economic model of the total cost of ownership.

The result of this conceptual design and analysis is a greater understanding of the role of autonomy in harvest. By comparing machine size, machine function, and the costs to own and operate this equipment, design guidelines for future autonomous systems are better understood. It is possible to build an autonomous harvesting system that can compete with current technologies in both harvest speed and overall cost of ownership.



Agricultural Economics, Precision Agriculture, Unmanned Ground Vehicles