Smart Ag: Driverless technology to work smarter, not harder

Smart Ag Colin Hurd (right) talks with two visitors to the Smart Ag Demo Day back in July, 2017.

Two years of research, development and testing has an Ames-based AgTech startup preparing for a new source of revenue this fall.

With its driverless tractor technology, Smart Ag is taking preorders for the upcoming fall harvest season. Smart Ag Founder Colin Hurd said the company is also in the process of raising $5 million in Series A funding.

Hurd said they were able to fully test the Smart Ag technology last fall with two local farmers near Ames and joked that it was rather…boring work.

“What it does (Smart Ag technology) is it makes that grain cart operation process very repeatable,” Hurd said. “Unlike when a person is driving it, our system does exactly the same thing each time. You know where it’s going to pull up and you can count on that.”

Seeking ideal partners

During the preorder process, Hurd said the Smart Ag team will look to partner with farmers from around the Midwest who can’t find enough help.

He said farms who only want the technology as a way to reduce labor expenses aren’t ideal partners.

“It’s even more about the person who would normally have to sit in the grain cart and let them go do something else,” Hurd said. “There are hundreds of things that happen during harvest, sometimes it’s just having an extra set of hands.”

Complex technology with a simple installation

Keeping the technology nonintrusive for the farmers was important, Hurd said, throughout the development process.

Hurd said it’s, “Plug and play” technology.

“That’s what farmers want,” Hurd said. “They don’t want to drill holes or modify that tractor because if they want to sell it down the road they don’t want to do anything to it that they can’t undo.”

Hurd says he was hopeful they could do very complex planning and run very complex algorithms, without installing a server on each tractor.

“That was another surprise, that we could do this advanced path planning that hasn’t really been applied to agriculture in any meaningful way,” Hurd says.

As the idea for Smart Ag was being developed, Hurd said he researched technology that was already developed and parts that could be used, that were easily accessible.

“We use mainly off the shelf hardware but from the software standpoint, nothing existed,” Hurd said. “We try to use as much technology as possible that is already on the tractor but we also do add our own hardware.”

Previous Coverage

Startups receive funding from Iowa Economic Development Authority – Sept. 25, 2017