Engineer to display 'revolutionary' tractor at Big Iron show in SeptemberSpectators planning to attend West Fargo’s Big Iron event in September can witness a tractor like none other.
Spectators planning to attend West Fargo’s Big Iron event in September can witness a tractor like none other.
Terry Anderson, a retired engineer who summers in the Black Hills, will unveil two prototypes of Spirit, a driverless tractor he said is cheaper and more productive than any model on the market.
“This tractor is revolutionary,” Anderson said Wednesday. “It doesn’t look like anything anyone else builds.”
Anderson added that he was not planning on presenting the robotic tractor at Big Iron, but the event’s organizers convinced him to come.
“They kind of want to use (Spirit) as a theme for their show this year,” he said.
Exhibit coordinator Chaun Merkins is amazed by what Spirit can do, and thinks it will be a hot draw for North Dakota farmers.
“As far as 20 miles away, (farmers) can operate the tractor that’s out in the field and see what the tractor sees,” Merkins said. “The tractors nowadays are so automated. This is just one more step down the road.”
Anderson said it took him 12 years to take that step. His journey in designing Spirit began with a challenge from his cousins, who urged Anderson to build a cheaper tractor.
Not only did Anderson accept the challenge, but he pooled all his resources to build a machine smaller and more efficient than traditional models.
A former owner of seven Minneapolis-based companies that cooperated with IBM and AT&T, Anderson said he gathered a number of his former colleagues and took to the drawing board. It was then that the Automation Research Group was formed, he added.
“We would go and study (tractor) technology and how it evolved,” he said. “We were quite flabbergasted at the fact that tractor technology had not advanced much in the last 80 years.”
Additionally, Anderson set out to produce a smaller, more efficient tractor, which cut the average tractor price tag in half.
For $150,000, Spirit will let farmers use 25 percent less fuel, Anderson said. He added that the unit has 300 horse power, compared to modern tractors that use up to 900 horse power.
Spirit, which Anderson said is 102 inches wide, 145 inches long and 96 inches high, features Caterpillar tracks, twin diesel engines and four drive motors. Anderson also said the unit trumps global positioning.
While many farmers use GPS in their tractors, Anderson said Spirit features a newer and more accurate guidance technology that lets the unit drive itself. Farmers just have to show Spirit where to work once, and it will remember what to do, Anderson said.
“Area Positioning System will allow you to steer extremely accurately in the field,” he said. “You take a four-wheeler or your pick-up or another tractor, and you just drive in front of it and you tell Spirit to follow you.”
Anderson added that Spirit can do a number of chores, which include pulling other farm equipment, tilling and spraying, allowing farmers to worry about other tasks.
“That could give that farmer a lot of extra time,” said Garry Ottmar, livestock research specialist at the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Dickinson. “If (a farmer is) calving when he’s farming, he can tend to his cattle, turn that thing loose and let it go.”
Spirit could also be the Hail Mary pass for area farmers struggling to find workers.
“With the oil field, help is getting hard to find,” said Doug Ficek, who farms in Manning. “You have to lean on technology to help assist.”
Anderson said he is updating the Spirit prototype in Fargo, away from his home near Lake Corpus Christi in Texas.
Anderson plans on constructing seven production sites spread throughout the U.S. and Canada, with the nearest site in Fargo.
Spirit can be seen during the Big Iron show, which runs Sept. 11-13 at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo.