The Autonomous Powerplay Project:

The Quest for 5 in 5

1        Summary

The Autonomous Power Play (APP) is an initiative for development of North American technology towards autonomous agricultural equipment. The initiative goal is to accelerate the advancement of this North American technology through groups of collaborative projects between Ag equipment manufacturers, technology companies, researchers, and engineering service organizations. These projects will be focused on a new theme each year over a 5-year period, based on the 5-levels of autonomy in agriculture. The goal is 5 in 5. Each year will end with a showcase that may include the output of the projects, working towards a showcase that is a fully autonomous farm by the end of year 5.

The core belief driving this initiative is that collaboration between companies in their development efforts can produce more innovation than each company can working alone. The Autonomous Powerplay Project also strives towards commercially viable solutions as these are driven by organizations that have an interest in applying their resources towards projects that can provide real return on investment. This focused effort provides a framework for collaborative innovation of commercially viable technology that can result in Canada and the United States being a leader in advanced agricultural technology, ultimately leading to thousands of manufacturing and high-technology jobs being created in Canada and associated countries.

2        Background

There has been a rapid advancement of technology needed to support autonomous vehicles, largely driven out of the automotive industry. This technology is built more broadly on an advancement of sensors (such as LIDAR, RADAR, and vision systems), connected systems (or IoT) to make the sensor data accessible (for example cloud-based systems), data analytics to turn data into information that is useful for decision making using techniques like machine learning, and advanced automation or robotics for movement of the vehicles. A paradigm consisting of 5-levels of autonomous vehicles has been used to describe the advancement of systems towards autonomous for on-highway vehicles. The figure below shows these 5-Levels.

Figure 1: 5-Levels of Autonomy for On-Highway Vehicles

This has been useful in coordinating technology development between multiple organizations helping to advance towards fully autonomous road vehicles.

The development of autonomous road vehicles has been largely focused on guidance and navigation, as the primary function of road vehicles is transportation of people or goods. However, off-highway vehicles generally have a primary function that is different than only transportation. A planter needs to put seed in the ground, a combine needs to harvest a crop, baler needs to produce bales, etc. The effort to bring autonomy to the farm needs also to consider the automation of each of the unique machines used throughout the farming season and on different types of farms.

Case IH, through their work in their autonomous tractor, has taken the idea of the 5-levels of autonomy for road vehicles and evolved it specifically for agriculture to define the 5-levels of autonomy in agriculture. This includes:

  • Level 1: Guidance
  • Level 2: Coordination & Optimization
  • Level 3: Operator Assisted Autonomy
  • Level 4: Supervised Autonomy
  • Level 5: Full Autonomy

Figure 2: 5-Levels of Autonomy in Agriculture as Defined by Case IH

While the Case definition is useful, it still has a focus around the tractor, but there is a similar need for increased level of automation with agricultural implements and the core farming function in order to truly achieve an autonomous farm.

There are a wide range of agriculture equipment manufacturers in North America that have knowledge and expertise in specific equipment that are used on the farm. They have each developed this expertise into successful businesses manufacturing these machines, and generally have the strongest application knowledge in their specific areas in the industry. A road to autonomous agricultural equipment will require the combination of autonomous implements with autonomous tractors, and in many cases, this may result in entirely new types of machines that have never been used before. Innovative machine manufacturers need to define their own vision for how they can adopt to the future autonomous world, through increasing levels of automation that can bring real value to their end customers on the road to full automation.

Many companies struggle with formulating this vision, as the autonomous future is not something that each company can necessarily determine for themselves, but rather is something that the entire industry will evolve towards. The 5-levels of autonomy in agriculture provides a broad framework for each organization’s unique vision, and the Autonomous Powerplay Project provides a mechanism for collaboration that can help accelerate the path forward.

 

3        APP Structure

The Autonomous Powerplay Project is made up of a collection of likeminded organizations for a 5-year mission to accelerate the state of Canadian technology in the area of autonomous agricultural equipment. It is an independent not-for-profit organization focused specifically on the goal of 5 in 5.

Each year will have a theme based on the 5-levels of autonomy in agriculture. These will be:

  • Year 1 (2018/2019) – Guidance
  • Year 2 (2019/2020) – Coordination & Optimization
  • Year 3 (2020/2021) – Operator Assisted Autonomy
  • Year 4 (2021/2022) – Supervised Autonomy
  • Year 5 (2022/2023) – Full Autonomy

Each year will begin with a selection of projects that are each a collaboration between several organizations working towards specific goals relating to the autonomy themes. At the end of the year there will be a showcase held to demonstrate the projects. This showcase will be specific to the year’s theme, and will be held at PAMI’s Off-road Vehicle Proving Grounds near Humbolt, Saskatchewan.

There will also be two working group sessions held throughout the year to facilitate sharing and collaboration of projects, bring in outside speakers related to the specific theme, and highlight technology for members of the APP.

3.1      Timelines

The proposed timeline for each year is described in the table below.

Table 1: Project Annual Milestones

Milestone Reference Date Activity Description
M1 Mid-April Project Guidelines Published,

Call for Projects

The specific project guidelines for the year centered around the annual theme are published. There is a call for projects, where project proposals for the coming year will be accepted
M2 End of June Project Submission Closed All projects must be proposed prior to this date
M3 Mid-July Project Selection The list of selected projects is finalized, and notification to each of the involved organizations is provided.
M4 End of October Working Group 1 The first working group session is held. This consists of project updates (optional), outside speakers, and technology highlights
M5 End of February (following year) Working Group 2 The second working group session is held. This consists of project updates (optional), outside speakers, and technology highlights
M5 End of July (following year) Showcase The showcase around the autonomy theme for the year is held, and the annual projects are closed.

 

These milestones are repeated each year for the 5 years. This will mean that there is an overlap of activities from one year to the next, as the project selection is completed prior to the showcase. This is shown for the first 2 years in the Gantt chart below.

Figure 3: Proposed Schedule for First Two Years

The benefit of this overlap is that groups participating in the next year’s projects will have a chance to see the previous year’s project showcased to inspire areas to build upon.

3.2      Working Groups

The working groups will be opportunities for collaboration between all organizations involved in the APP. This is expected to include presentations of progress on projects, highlights of technology, and outside speakers in relevant areas. These are expected to formulate discussions on areas such as inter-machine communication protocols, vision systems, guidance techniques, etc.

The working groups are seen as a crucial aspect of the effective inter-project collaboration and development.

The working groups are also an opportunity for assessment of the approved projects. The Technical Assessment Committee (see Section 5.2) will assess each of the projects against their proposal to determine if reasonable progress is being made, and provide recommendations to the Board of Directors if the project continues, be changed (in scope and/or funding), or continue as planned.

3.3      Showcase

The showcase is to be held at the end of each year at the PAMI Off-road Proving Grounds near Humbolt, Saskatchewan. The goal of the showcase will be to demonstrate the technologies developed within the projects through the year, specifically related to the year’s theme (based on the 5-levels of autonomy in agriculture). The showcase is expected to initially consist of separate project demonstrations, but there will be an effort to build the demonstrations into large collaborations, with the goal of demonstrating a fully autonomous farm by the end of the 5th year. The showcase is an excellent opportunity for marketing for project participants, as well as supporting groups. The showcase will include technology and organization collaboration highlights and be promoted heavily with worldwide coverage.

4        Participation

Organizations that wish to participate in the APP must fit into one of the following organization types:

  • Agriculture equipment manufacturers – These are companies that manufacture agriculture equipment/machines.
  • Technology companies – These are companies that have technologies that facilitate autonomous agricultural equipment, such as electronics, sensors, software systems, etc.
  • Engineering services – These are organizations that provide engineering services that facilitate the development of autonomous agricultural equipment. This could be system design, software development, test facilities, etc.
  • Research organizations – These are organizations that are committed to research of technologies that facilitate autonomous agricultural equipment. In most cases these will be Universities.

These organizations can participate in the APP in two different ways:

  • Project Participant – Organizations with this status are part of the APP through a submitted and approved project. The project may or may not be demonstrated at the showcase at the end of the year (see project section for details). There is no cost to organizations that are project participant, and there are funding possibilities to support the development projects.
  • Observer – Organizations with this status do not have a project as part of the APP, but can participate in the working groups and the showcase. Organizations with this status must pay membership fees to be part of the APP.

 

 

5        Governance and Organization

5.1      Board of Directors

The APP is guided by a Board of Directors that represent the interests of different types of organizations interested in the common goal. The Board of Directors consists of representatives of the following organization types:

  • Technology companies
  • Agricultural Equipment Manufacturers
  • Engineering Services
  • Research Organizations

The chairman of the board is John Anderson from JCA Electronics.

The Board of Directors are responsible for:

  • Selection of the Technical Assessment Committee
  • Setting specific guidelines for the projects, working groups, and showcase
  • Final approval of projects to be included in the APP (as recommended by the Technical Assessment Committee)
  • Organizing funding for the APP
  • Organizing the working groups and showcase
  • Arrange cooperative marketing for the working groups and the showcase, and to promote Canadian agricultural equipment advancements made within this initiative to the world

The Board of Directors are committed to executing their responsibilities to the best of their abilities according to the core principles of the organization. These core principles are stated in Appendix A.

5.2      Technical Assessment Committee

The Technical Assessment Committee is appointed by the Board of Directors each year. This is a group of engineers, developers, and researchers that represent each of the types of organizations (tech companies, agricultural equipment manufacturers, engineering services, and research organizations). In the initial project selection phase, this committee reads through and assesses each of the projects proposed, evaluates against the criteria for selection, and makes a recommendation for selection and funding to the Board of Directors.

The Technical Assessment Committee is also responsible for project assessments at each of the working groups, and makes recommendations to the Board of Directors on whether each project should continue, be changed (in scope and/or funding), or continue as planned.

5.3      Marketing and Administration Coordinator

The APP will require significant marketing and administration effort for organization of the call of projects, working groups, showcase, and general marketing of the initiative. A full-time marketing and administration coordinator will be employed by the APP for this function, with direction and oversight provided by the Board of Directors.

6        Projects, Selection, and Assessment

6.1      Project Criteria

Projects can be proposed by organizations that want to have Project Participant membership within the APP. There are several criteria for projects to be accepted by the APP. These are:

  • The project must demonstrate alignment with one (or more) of the themes representing the 5 level of autonomy in agriculture. Projects within a given year do not have to be focused on the specific theme for the year, they can be focused on themes in coming years. For example, in the first year (Guidance), it may be expected that research and technology organizations may be working on projects for Year 2 or Year 3 to have technology ready for integration with agriculture equipment manufacturers in those years when they approach. These research and technology projects can still be part of the Year 1 projects.
  • Projects must include organizations that fit the types described in Section 4.
  • Projects must include Canadian organizations as the primary organizations involved.
  • Projects must include a collaboration between at least two Canadian organizations.
  • At least 50% of the project funding must be provided by the Participant Organizations (a maximum of 50% funding can be provided by the APP for approved projects).

6.2      Project Types

There is a goal to build the APP showcase into a major worldwide marketing event, and so participants are encouraged to include their projects as part of the showcase as much as possible. However, it is understood that there are stages to development where it may be more advantageous for organizations to keep development/research private for IP protection reasons, or because they may be taking risks where success is not certain (and do not want public exposure to this). Both of these types of projects are encouraged, therefore, there are three types that can be proposed by organizations to the APP:

  1. Private projects – Private projects are projects where the project participants do not wish the development/research in the project to be made public for Intellectual Property (IP) protection reasons. In this case the project is proposed only to the Board of Directors, and can be approved (and potentially financially supported) by the APP, but would not be included in the showcase. In cases where there is a board member that may be part of the submitting organization or one that competes with participating organizations for the project, the Board or the project participants can request the particular board member to be excused from the selection process for the project.
  2. Promoted non-showcase projects – These are projects that are promoted publicly, but are not intended to be part of the showcase. These may be projects where the output of the project is important to the research and development goals of the APP, but does not demonstrate well in a showcase environment. However, these projects are likely to be highlighted and discussed at APP working groups.
  3. Showcase projects – Showcase projects are projects that will be demonstrated within the APP showcase at the end of the year. Projects featured in the showcase will benefit from significant (worldwide) marketing exposure. The expectation is that this will motivate companies to participate in the showcase.

6.3      Intellectual Property

It is up to each of the Project Participant organizations involved in any given project to determine how the IP resulting from the project is divided. The APP itself does not retain any rights to IP, and is not responsible for determining the IP division between Project Participant organizations.

6.4      Project Proposals

Project proposals submitted for consideration to be included in the APP must (at a minimum):

  • Specify the organizations involved in the project
  • Describe the project and how it aligns with the one (or more) themes of the 5 levels of autonomy in agriculture
  • Specify whether the project is to be Private, Public, or Showcase
  • Specify the total expected funding required for the project, how this will be divided between the Project Participants, and the requested support from the APP to go towards this funding. NOTE: It is expected the APP will provide funds on a matching basis, so investment requested from the APP will need to be matched from Participating organizations.

6.5      Project Selection Process

Projects that are submitted for consideration to the APP are reviewed by the APP Technical Assessment Committee. The Technical Assessment Committee provides an assessment of feasibility and alignment with the project selection criteria. Recommendations are then made to the Board of Directors for which projects should be selected, and how much funding should be applied to each project (from the total available project funding). Board of Directors gives final approval to projects being selected, considering the Technical Assessment Committee’s recommendations.

Both the Technical Assessment Committee and the Board of Directors are subject to a strict non-disclosure agreement so that no information within the project proposals are to be disclosed outside of the APP context, however it is understood that there may be cases where a member of the technical assessment committee or board member belongs to an organization that may be submitting or competing in the market against one or more organizations in the proposed project. In these cases, a Project Participant or a member of the Board can request the member of the Technical Assessment Committee and/or Board member to be excused from the selection and assessment process for the project in question. The intent here is to allow a safe environment where organizations can explore collaboration opportunities without risk of competitive disadvantage.

6.6      Project Evaluation

After selection, projects are evaluated at three times throughout the year, which are at each of the working groups, as well as at the year-end showcase. At the working groups, the Technical Assessment Committee will assess each of the projects against their proposal to determine if reasonable progress is being made, and provide recommendations to the Board of Directors if the project continues, is changed (in scope and/or funding), or continue as planned. If project participants cannot show meaningful progress, then the project may be discontinued. Progress does not mean successful application of technology; difficult projects are encouraged, and these might result in failures, but this can still be considered meaningful progress.

At the year-end showcase, the Technical Assessment Committee will provide a final assessment of each of the projects. This assessment can be used as part of the information considered for future project approval for organizations. Consideration of lack of progress on projects by organizations will be considered in the following year’s selection process, and organizations that have a history of lack of progress may be excluded from the APP projects.

7        Project Funding

The APP is proposed as a means to better organize development of technologies and capabilities required for autonomous agricultural equipment, with the purpose of facilitating collaborations between organizations by providing a framework for each organization to shape their product/capability vision towards autonomous agricultural equipment. These goals are well-aligned with the Government of Canada’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative, as well as other funding initiatives. The APP will actively pursue federal and provincial funding, as well as generate revenue through Observer Participant fees, which will then be used to support the proposed projects.

PIC supercluster

In the near-term the major funding focus will be the Innovation Superclusters Initiative through the Protein Industries Supercluster (PIC). PIC is based in the Canadian Prairies and has a high-level goal of increasing the value of Canadian crops an building Canada’s worldwide reputation as a leader in agricultural production. These are well aligned with the goals of the APP. Demonstration of a strong collaboration of companies around a very specific goal of 5-in-5 that can have a real impact on establishing Canada as a leader in advanced agriculture equipment can position the Autonomous Powerplay Project as a candidate for funding through the PIC supercluster.

8        Benefits to Participation for Organizations

There are considerable benefits for organizations to become involved in the Autonomous Powerplay Project. The primary benefits include being part of a program that has a framework for rapid advancement of agricultural equipment technology towards a fully autonomous farm. The very nature of autonomous systems will require a new level of collaboration between agriculture equipment manufacturers, and the APP provides a method to facilitate this, organize funding to support it, and have a showcase to demonstrate it to the world.

 

Appendix A – APP Core Principles

The core principles of the Autonomous Powerplay Project are used to provide direction in decision making for the Board of Directors and participating organizations with the purpose of best success of the organization.

  1. The fundamental goal of the project is to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced technologies applied to agricultural machinery within Canada.

 

  1. The initiative is intended to facilitate collaboration of Canadian organizations in the pursuit of technological advancement. Decisions should be made in the interest of working together as organizations for the collective benefit of establishing Canada as a world leader in the area of advanced agricultural machine technology on a road toward autonomous machines. This principle is built on an understanding that organizations working together can achieve more technology advancements than the same organizations each working individually.

 

  1. The initiative is intended to facilitate technology development of varying risk levels, from near-term commercialization expectations to experimental research. It is expected that some may be successful (in terms of commercial viability) and some may not. Risky development will be needed to push the edge of technology, and this will result in failure of some projects. This should be expected and projects should not be rejected only because they are deemed to be risky, as long as there is some reasonable expectation of technology advancement.

 

  1. The APP should be as much a safe playground for collaborative technology development as possible. Organizations involved in the APP are compelled to act accordingly, and not exploit competitive advantages through information learned through the APP in confidence. IP agreements, non-disclosures agreements, and the allowance of private projects are mechanisms to project the IP developed by organizations within the APP, but beyond this, a code of conduct to maintain the collaborative spirit of the initiative should also be respected by all organizations involved. Any organization found to be acting outside of this code of conduct may be expelled from the initiative.