The joint venture between Lemken and Krone to produce an autonomous tractor will be stepping up a gear this season with the companies appearing to have now thrown their full weight behind the project.

Known as Combined Powers, the new joint division tells us that the 2024 season will see significant expansions in the area of autonomous agricultural technology.

The plan is to extend the range of applications for their field robots by utilising the front linkage along with the rear.

This has been made possible by the integration of forward mounted lift arms and power take-off (PTO).

Involving the implement

While it may seem that the development of a robotic tractor is a standalone project, the removal of the human element between the implement and the pulling machine creates both problems and opportunities.

Setting a machine to undertake the task as desired has always been the job of the operator, but without that interface between the two mechanical elements, the implements will have to directly instruct the tractor on what to do.

Combined powers robot with mowers
Krone has been focusing on the mowing operation over the last two seasons

This process is already underway in farming with Tractor Implement Management (TIM) commanding the tractor when round baling. However, that is just a start with a field operation that lends itself to digital working.

The challenge is to take the idea and apply it to other field operations that require an assessment of the situation and a considered reaction, rather than a simple monitoring of a regular cycle with the appropriate response triggered at pre-set points.

The next step for Lemken and Krone

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often cited as the way forward, but as impressive as it might appear, it is still only at the stage of being able to review vast amounts of data and draw conclusions from the trends it observes; it cannot reason; it is unable to do maths.

Yet, it is reasoning that is vital in many farm operations; responding to field conditions is critical and it is something that an experienced item of organic firmware, like a farmer, is good at.

Robot with cultivator
Lemken has focused on stubble cultivation and will add a front-mounted seed hopper this year

The Combined Powers project has set out to overcome this obstacle and is planning to gain a good deal more experience in the field, utilising either end of the tractor and in both grassland and tillage situations.

This will be the third season of trials and Krone will be continuing to refine the mowing operation with a butterfly combination, while Lemken will be focusing on stubble cultivation and sowing, both operations making use of front- and rear-mounted implements.

Combined Powers offers open access

A point of intertest is that although Lemken and Krone make their own implements, the software interfaces are being kept open to allow other companies to contribute to the development process with ideas of their own.

Another feature of the work so far undertaken, is the improvement in the diesel-electric drive.

The new generation of machines retains its power output of 170kW / 230hp and continues to feature four-wheel steering with large tyres for maximum tractive power and minimum ground pressure.

Krone robot at Agritechnica
The familiar green or blue liveries were last seen at Agritechnica. There will be a shared grey paint scheme from now on

Visually, the companies have decided to give the tractors a uniform paint scheme of platinum grey rather than differentiate the machines by dressing them in their respective liveries.

The tractor units will be undergoing large-scale practical trials which are intended to significantly improve the reliability of the autonomous process.

The test deployments will take place on various farms in Germany and neighbouring European countries in order to assess the functionality and communication of units using various implements under real-life conditions.