Robotics and autonomous technologies could one day take over the world of farm machinery - that day looks to be closer than ever as a result of a new project being championed by Fendt which applies swarm theory to corn planting.
The idea is that rather than using one or two pieces of heavy equipment to plant rows of crop, farmers will instead be able to send out an army of compact self-propelled robotic vehicles which will do the work on their behalf.
This is not just a pie in the sky idea, but a concept that Fendt is intending to demonstrate in full during next month's Agritechnica event over in its native Germany.
The system that the firm has developed goes by the name of Xaver, and it can use up to 12 robots working together on a field, communicating with one another and collaborating to achieve the most efficient and productive stint of planting possible.
These mini-machines do not get to work straight away but rather spend a short time planning their actions, plotting the routes that they will take and generally optimising everything before going ahead.
Aside from the efficiency improvements which are achievable with this approach, the robots are also able to react in real time to changing circumstances, allowing for dynamic performance if something goes awry. For example, if one of the units stops working or is otherwise compromised, the others can take up the slack and make sure that total coverage is delivered as expected.
Powered by cloud computing and learning algorithms, these swarms of robots developed by Fendt could effectively operate without ever needing to stop. Although, of course, since they are battery-powered, they will need to be recharged, which has to be considered as part of the planning process.
Weighing around 50 kilos apiece, these machines are reported to use just a fifth of the energy to plant corn than would otherwise be consumed by heavy equipment carrying out the work in their place. So from an environmental perspective there are benefits to consider as well.
Because they use electric motors, maintenance requirements should be minimal, and the likelihood of breakdowns will be lower than for a diesel-powered tractor. Fendt argues that this makes them even more attractive.
The most obvious benefit of their small size is that they will not cause anywhere near as much soil compaction as a tractor, maintaining the integrity of the field surface.
After the Agritechnica unveiling of the Xaver robotic planting swarm system, Fendt is going to start running small-scale trials with a number of farms across Europe in order to establish how well this project works in its current form and where changes need to be made.
While farm machinery has increased in size and power over the past century, the arrival of robots like this could mark a turning point and the start of an age when smaller is actually better when it comes to agricultural equipment.