In five short statements Michael and Philipp Horsch describe what they understand by autonomous driving systems, which technical requirements are necessary, how the topic developed in the HORSCH company and what will be required in the future.
Michael Horsch: Our first steps towards an autonomous driving system must have taken place in the early 2000s when we bought the first AutoFarm GPS steering system for HNG. At that time, it was the first RTK system from the US which allowed for driving within the range of a centimetre. When it worked, we thought: If something like this works, we should be able to drive autonomously. But at that time the project came to nothing. When we bought our test farm AgroVation in the Czech Republic, we had the chance to focus on CTF and track planning. We originally started with an agronomic point of view, but we soon realised that CTF first and foremost is about planning. This was another step towards autonomous driving systems.
Philipp Horsch: I would rather call many things which today are associated with the term autonomous automation. Let’s take the example of a tractor that drives with GPS and can reverse on its own – for a start this only is an automation step, there is still somebody sitting on the machine who controls it. Autonomous means that there really is no driver. And we are talking about different vehicles, i. e. without a cabin on it. And what is extremely important: Automation comes before autonomous driving. It definitely is the first step. As automation has been an important topic for years, we have been making good progress. However, there still are quite some hurdles to clear until we reach complete autonomy.
Philipp Horsch: To be able to work in a partially autonomous way today, three things are required: First of all, the track planning system. Then you need geofencing, i.e. a digital fence. And the third point is the safety topic. Today we solve it by placing a “driver“ with a remote control in the field whose task it is to monitor everything and to intervene in case of emergency. The remote control is authorised for a range of 500 m. These three aspects are important to make sure that we soon can work in the field in a partially autonomous way and be safe. The next step logically is the sensor system so that the machine can be monitored, e.g. a clogging detection etc. From a technical point of view, we are working on different concepts, for at the moment we still do not know what will stand the test and in which conditions. What we know is that we have to take the different concepts into the field, exercise respectively, learn and develop further. In any case, our approach is free from any bias.
Michael Horsch: The current legal situation is another important issue. At the moment, from a legal point of view, the legislator does not separate between road and field, but treats them as equal. But on the road, you drive significantly faster and there is opposing traffic. The need for a re-definition and the public pressure to finally create appropriate framework conditions is enormous. If we separated road and field, we could get started in the field much faster. Another point is the possibility of the homologation of the safety concept, i.e. camera systems, radar and lidar systems. We hope that in the next few years the safety systems will have developed in such a way that they can be homologised, for from a technical point of view we are ready. All this is perfectly sufficient for a test farm, for this is where we want to gather experiences, test machines and integrate them into the farm processes.
Michael Horsch: The time of the generation - that by the way I also belong to – that is into fully air-conditioned cabins and a showy bonnet is coming to an end. The next generation is already waiting in the wings, is 14 to 18 years old and digitally native. The ability to deal with touchscreens, smartphones and tablets is almost innate. These young people control everything that moves completely intuitively and without ever having read a user manual. The users are already there. We have to meet the requirements.