Blenheim-based hi-tech company Smart Machine has achieved its goal of reimaging and reinventing the humble tractor for viticultural farmers. Named ‘Oxin,’ and now in its fourth generation, the machine is a fully autonomous, tracked machine with smart implements that change the game for growers.
Smart Machine’s CEO and co-founder Andrew Kersley says Oxin solves the major issue of sector-wide labour pressures, operating with heightened efficiency and sustainability, with the highest levels of precision and safety.
“We’ve built the world’s first fully autonomous viticultural tractor, using our product development expertise to combine industrial design, agricultural engineering, AI, IOT, machine vision, cloud computing, mechatronics and a deep understanding of viticultural practises and processes. Fleets of our machines can be controlled by individual operators, and the industry-specific design approach has reconfigured a machine more sustainable and suitable for its environment.”
Andrew says Oxin can undertake increased operational functions like mowing, mulching, trimming, defoliating and spraying simultaneously with each row pass, to maximise available operator time and convert this into in-row productive work time.
“The Oxin enables growers to consider how they not only use their available labour resources but potentially attract and retain new resources.”
“It’s effectively a step-change in how you can operationally manage your vineyard. You’re not reliant on the operator’s skill or the same levels of availability to get a good job done — the capability, precision, safety and data sit within the machinery. This I believe will enable the operator to focus on additional activities outside of the operational tasks being undertaken.”
“To date, we have built twenty-one machines with our first export model now operational in Australia.”
The first prototype was built in 2019, and Andrew says the team gave themselves 12 months to build the prototype, validate autonomy and test some basic functionality. “Off that back of the proof of concept, we built a fleet of generation-one machines to validate some of the business productivity assumptions around autonomy.”
“Over the past four years, we have built four generations of the Oxin and supporting implements. Although the general design has remained, we have really focused on improving our manufacturability, robustness and reliability transitioning from prototype to production model. To date, we have built twenty-one machines with our first export model now operational in Australia.”
Andrew acknowledges there have been significant challenges to overcome both on the business and technology side of the project. “What we’re developing here is fifty separate products rolled into one. There are significant software challenges around autonomous driving, navigation, machine vision, communication and safety. Everything that we’re doing is leading edge.”
“On the hardware side, we’ve re-imagined and built a 100hp tractor and supporting implements from scratch. When you consider the significant software and hardware challenges alongside the timeframes and resource constraints that come in the start-up space, then to do what we have is incredible, and something that I’m very proud of. We’ve been fortunate to employ a talented team who have a passion for problem-solving, what we’ve built is a credit to them all.”
Smart Machine and Oxin was a finalist in both the 2022 and 2023 NZ Hi-Tech awards. Andrew says entering the awards is a great opportunity for technology businesses to share their achievements and acknowledge all the supporting players.
“In our line of work, you constantly focused on what you can do better. In some ways, you take what you’ve achieved for granted, so it’s nice to take some time out to look at what you have done and celebrate.”
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