Unmanned Systems Technology 038 l Skyeton Raybird-3 l Data storage l Sea-Kit X-Class USV l USVs insight l Spectronik PEM fuel cells l Blue White Robotics UVIO l Antennas l AUVSI Xponential Virtual 2021 report

71 20 different growers on the US west coast and spoke to several more in Australia to determine their specific needs. All of them said the lockdowns and border closures had shut off their supply of migrant labour and destroyed their ability to operate, both in terms of getting workers into the fields and having them still legally comply with social distancing in the fields, bunkhouses and so on. “Even so, they need the solution simplified – when you buy a power drill, for example, you don’t actually want to learn about the power drill, you want to drill holes in a wall. So we take care of all the systems integrations, software writing and even regulatory paperwork, so none of it seems like a big, risky investment or a potential liability to these new adopters of unmanned systems.” Alon Ascher, general manager and vice-president of business development at Blue White, adds, “A typical farm might have six to 12 different tractors for different tasks – tending to citrus fruit, nuts, vineyards and so on – so we transfer their drivers over to just one operator. Although our system naturally comes with an initial investment cost, from day one you save hugely on labour and keeping your farm running, even if your workers can’t access their machinery.” In addition to making up for worker shortfalls and reducing farms’ sensitivities to shocks in the labour supply, the system reduces costs by eliminating human error during farming tasks, which can cause serious harm to crops, workers or vehicles owing to poor visibility, working at night or the repetitive nature of some jobs. Simplifying operations and increasing worker safety also greatly reduce the need for micromanagement by a farm’s overseer, making their job much easier. “Over time, we can also see how to optimise the use of farm vehicles more efficiently, so instead of needing 12 tractors running all the time for example, we might find that actually the farm needs only 10 or even eight,” Ascher adds. “So then you can reduce your fleet sizes, parts inventories, maintenance work and insurance costs.” The BlueWhite Platform As mentioned, the kit comprising the BlueWhite Platform encompasses a wide range of products to be potentially integrated. As a rule, however, the farmer always retains their existing equipment – their preferences in tractors and implements are kept. “The Platform is an aftermarket kit, so we convert the on-site tractors – and as there’s no drive-by-wire on those vehicles, we need to automate everything down to the mechanical controls,” Ascher says. “So the first component of our kit is the low-level control system: servos for mechanical actuation of the steering wheels, pedals, levers, power take-offs, hydraulics and so on.” These dozen-or-so servos are controlled by a low-level computer, so called to differentiate it from a high-level computer that runs more complex algorithms. This sits inside the cab, operating via a closed loop of control sensors to make sure actuation commands are carried out with sufficient accuracy and that they result in the correct adjustments for maintaining tractor speed, turning and braking. “The low-level computer is 80% the same in every tractor; the other 20% generally consists of some modifications specific to the layout of different tractor models’ cabs – the different connections, pedal mechanisms and actuation mechanisms,” Ascher adds. Manual control of the tractors is never entirely eliminated; where necessary, a single button on the central control station enables a worker to drive the tractor themselves. Bulky computer enclosures and hanging cables that could obstruct human access to pedals or levers are therefore avoided, and size-optimised actuators, wiring Blue White Robotics Platform | In operation Unmanned Systems Technology | June/July 2021 A Lidar sits on the front of each tractor for obstacle detection, with a bumper below for last-resort collision protection