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How driverless vehicles will change agriculture

Driverless cars might be the key to a more productive daily commute - providing more time to get on top of emails, apply ones make-up or to sleep! But what about their application in farm life?

Yesterday the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) appeared before a House of Representatives Inquiry into driverless vehicles at Parliament House, Canberra to explain the opportunities the technology offers the agricultural sector.

Rural Affairs Manager Mark Harvey-Sutton said automated vehicles were far from a distant contemplation for farmers.

“Already farmers deploy a range of automated machinery.

“Grain growers, for example, ‘drive’ tractors and harvesters that are almost completely automated through the application of global positioning systems.”

Mr Harvey-Sutton said to go one step further with vehicles that do not need a driver at all, would be transformational.

“The potential for farms to be able to set a vehicle or piece of machinery into operation and then move on to other tasks has the potential to be a game changer for how agriculture is carried out in this country and across the world,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.

“Potentially farmers would be able to manage physically larger areas thereby increasing productivity and efficiency.

Removing the need of farmers to physically drive would positively impact their quality of life.
Mark Harvey-Sutton, Manager, Rural Affairs, NFF

It also has the potential to significantly increase health and well-being outcomes.

“A key part of the farm operation calendar is preparing paddock for crops, sowing crops, managing weeds and pests, and checking livestock.

“All these tasks require farmers to spend many hours operating – or merely sitting on machinery and in vehicles.

“Removing the need of farmers to physically drive would positively impact their quality of life, for example, no longer needing to sit in harvesters for up to 16 hours at a time.”

“It would also rationally minimise the safety risk to farmers from operating large, potentially dangerous machinery.”

The NFF also proposes that driverless technology would help to make farming a more attractive vocation for young people.

“An automated approach to in-paddock activities would change the nature of a farm career – shifting it from predominately manual tasks to a more technology-based, data-analysis role.”

The NFF raised the benefits for regional living in general, citing the opportunities for remote residents to commute larger distances for social, health and educative needs as well as the improved safety aspect.

“Driverless cars could make rural roads safer by removing the risks of driver error and driver fatigue during long and tedious travel on country roads.

“Trial runs of cars have shown that there is less risk of accidents when vehicles are controlled by algorithms,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.

Driverless vehicles operating in rural, regional and remote locations will require reliable telecommunications.
Mark Harvey-Sutton, Manager, Rural Affairs, NFF

However, a key barrier to driverless vehicles becoming a reality in the bush is that old chestnut – connectivity.

“Driverless vehicles operating in rural, regional and remote locations will require reliable telecommunications to coordinate movements, and at present this would prove challenging given the sparse mobile phone coverage in the bush,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.

In its submission, the NFF recommended the Inquiry investigate what kind of telecommunications would be needed for the safe operation of driverless vehicles in rural, regional and remote locations.

View NFF’s complete submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry here.

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