Throughout its history, Raven Industries, has always prided itself on being not only a leader in existing ag technology, but an innovator of new technologies as well. Recently, both of these characteristics were on display as the company held its third annual Ignite Event for customers and visitors at its Sioux Falls, SD, headquarters and nearby research facility in Baltic, SD.
Paul Welbig, then-Director of Business Development, kicked off the meeting, explaining the company’s thought process behind Ignite. “We are coming out with new innovations all the time,” said Welbig. “What if we brought everybody together to share best practices and ideas?” The three-day gathering, held in mid-August, attracted 145 attendees, with many in attendance from the ag retail community.
During the event, Raven personnel highlighted several of the company’s existing ag technologies for visitors. This included information on the RS1 steering controller, Viper 4+ display, AutoBoom XRT boom leveling, and VSN Visual Guidance System. Also previewed was the company’s new Sense & Act unit. Developed in conjunction with Augmenta, which was acquired by Raven’s parent company CNH Industrial in March. This system allows sprayers, spreaders, and other ag equipment to proactively scan field conditions and adjust operations accordingly.
Besides simply showing off many of its ag technology offerings, Eric Shuman, General Manager, said the reason Raven Industries holds its Ignite Event is to better connect with the overall industry. “I want ag retailers to recognize us as a key partner for them — one that’s able to bring efficiency and better profitability to organizations and their operations,” said Shuman. “As a business, I want to be viewed as a partner.”
In addition to this, Shuman added that Raven Industries also wants to help the agricultural industry deal with one of its most pressing problems — a sustained labor shortage. For decades now, ag retailers and their grower-customers have cited labor as the No. 1 concern facing their business operations. In fact, in the 2022 CropLife 100 survey of the nation’s top ag retailers, 46% of respondents said that “finding/keeping employees” was their major market challenge going into the upcoming growing season.
Shuman agrees that this is a major agricultural market issue. “The key challenge, not only for ag retail, but in general, is labor — finding competent labor, that is,” he said. “What our products can do is help simplify an ag operation, making it easier to manage with the workers that are available.”
THE AUTONOMOUS/AI MOVEMENT
To deal with this ongoing labor shortage, many in the agricultural community are looking for technology to offer a helping hand. Over the past year, many systems have been introduced into the marketplace such as artificial intelligence (AI)-driven See & Spray Ultimate from John Deere and Raven’s own OMNiDRIVE autonomous grain cart.
For some, the lines between what constitutes fully autonomous vs. AI might be blurred a bit. However, according to Shuman, these systems are complimentary
to one another.
“Either way you define it, you are talking about systems that have the ability to learn and adapt,” he said. “There’s some AI baked into autonomous systems, allowing the machines to learn. It gets to the heart of making machines smarter and easier for operators to complete their tasks. I don’t think you can have a fully autonomous machine without AI on board. It’s a building block to get to fully driverless technology.”
Welbig agrees with this assessment, citing the Raven Sense & Act solution suite as an example. “Sense & Act technology enables spot spraying using onboard sensors, calculations, and control,” he said. “The system is aided by AI capabilities.”
For several years now, Welbig has talked about the ag industry’s push towards more autonomy. In fact, he has separated the movement into five distinct levels. Right now, he said, the industry is moving towards Level Three of Raven’s Path to Autonomy — using “smart in-cab systems” that assist operators in their tasks. Additionally, there is also some work going on with driverless systems.
“We are confidently at Level Three and working feverishly on Level Four, running solutions without a driver in the cab but with in-field supervision. We continue to develop our systems with the goal of Level Five — unsupervised autonomy,” said Welbig.
From Raven’s perspective, one such stepping-stone made its market debut at the 2023 Farm Progress show in late August. Called Raven Cart Automation, this unit is designed to synchronize the cart’s heading and speed with the combine during the unload on-the-go operation. With effective synchronization using local radio frequency, Welbig said that utilizing Raven Cart Automation in a farming operation has been shown to reduce stress by 22% for tractor operators and 33% for combine operators.
Looking ahead, Welbig foresees more such AI/autonomous systems being introduced into the agricultural marketplace, with possibly a few bumps in the road along the way. “Everything is on an acceleration curve right now,” he said. “And for some of us in this business, we may stub our toes or bloody our knuckles a little bit, but that’s what’s necessary to keep moving the needle forward.”
Shuman agrees. “Here at Raven, our primary focus will be autonomy — building out those current product offerings and improving them,” he said. “And I see much more autonomous technology expansion between now and 2025.”
As part of the CNH Industrial family of brands (including Case IH and New Holland) since 2021, Raven is rapidly developing innovative automated and autonomous systems on all platforms. The company’s continued integration adds strong innovation capabilities in autonomous and precision technology directly to CNH Industrial platforms, it says.
Raven Event Offers a Glimpse of a Bright Ag Tech Future
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