What Roomba has done for vacuums, Kinze Manufacturing hopes to do for tractors.
Last month the 46-year-old farm implement company demonstrated to dealers its new autonomous system developed with Jaybridge Robotics of Cambridge, Mass., which uses the global positioning system or GPS to allow tractors to run without human operators.
For two years Kinze and Jaybridge tested the system for detecting obstacles such as fence posts, stand pipes, farm animals and other vehicles.
But according to Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, vice president and chief marketing officer at Kinze, the spark for the autonomous system came from the vision of her dad, one in a long line of Iowa farmers and tinkerers.
"About 10 years ago, Dad started thinking that the future of agriculture wasn't necessarily in bigger equipment, but in autonomous drones," Veatch said.
Farmers already use global positioning systems to guide tractors and combines, but that technology works with someone sitting inside the vehicle.
Beyond demonstrating the technology to its dealers, Kinze isn't yet saying when the system will be available or for what price. But when the Kinze system arrives, it will be aimed at solving one of farming's most persistent problems: the scarcity of help.
"When you talk about good farm help these days, you're talking about more than just a hired hand," said Kinze's founder and owner, Jon Kinzenbaw. "The farm worker has to be very mechanically and technically skilled. There's not a lot of those folks around."
Veatch said the autonomous system holds the possibility of 24-hour planting during often rare good weather in April.