A giant more than six metres in length ranges far and wide in an immense field in the prairies of North America. It is not science fiction, it is our forefront vision for the future of farming. The Case IH Autonomous Concept Tractor accelerates the advent of driverless vehicle technology and, together with the Iveco Z Truck, gives us a preview of the future of innovation soon to be ushered in by CNH Industrial.

Original solutions with great technical and aesthetic potential can be experienced first-hand thanks to these two prototypes. They were developed by the styling centres of the respective brands working in coordination with the Innovation Department of CNH Industrial.

“Both the truck and the tractor have unique, purely functional requirements, and this is why design has to work hand in hand with engineering”, explains David Wilkie, Director of the CNH Industrial Design Center. “A drastic change in approach is now taking place, as it did for cars in the 1960’s. We are witnessing a growing awareness of the concrete value of design relative to functionality.”

“The driverless tractor is built on the base of a production Case IH Magnum and was created to illustrate the leading-edge technology developed by Case IH and New Holland Agriculture in the field of autonomous tractors. Extensive testing programmes have confirmed our expectations,” points out Wilkie enthusiastically.

CNH Industrial developed two different physical expressions of autonomous tractor technology: the New Holland T8 NHDrive – a traditional cabbed tractor using driverless technology – and the Case IH, a cabless tractor prototype, illustrating the potential of autonomous ‘driving’ in a variety of situations where it would be advantageous not to have an operator onboard, e.g., in the immense plains of North America, where time-sensitive applications could be handled successfully, while maximising inputs and productivity.

In the farming sector, brand image is a key value, and this is why the design team decided to maintain the family feeling with the Case IH Optum 300 CVX, winner of the ‘Tractor of the Year’ award for 2017. This innovative vehicle, with a strong personality, features a front with sharp lines drawing their inspiration from the helmet worn by Iron Man, which many cinema-goers will recognise.

“Before the launch of the Optum 300 CVX, Case IH favoured a highly traditional style, as though they were trying to reflect the conservative culture of the American Midwest”, commented David Wilkie. “But this new look has met with such widespread appreciation it has led other brands to seek a renewal of their image, also prompted by the aggressive competition that characterises the sector”.

Confronted with a formal challenge in giving shape to the body that was going to enclose such high-tech components, and aware of the fact that the fulcrum of the prototype would be technology, not style, the design team of the Burr Ridge (Chicago) Styling Centre – coordinated by Eric Jacobsthal (Industrial Design Manager) together with designer Frank Asztalos and, during an initial stage, with Chief Designer Dwayne Jackson, now with FCA North America – chose to give the driverless Magnum recognisable looks, which would be reminiscent of the new styling language introduced with the Optum 300 CVX. This has resulted in sinuous and dynamic forms for the body which balance perfectly the mechanical and technological lower part.

The choice of paintwork was also dictated by technical considerations, as it was impossible to use metallic paints on the surfaces that would house the GPS and remote signal receivers .

“After an initial experiment with matt colours, which was deemed unsatisfactory in terms of chromatic yield, we decided to coat these areas with black graphics contrasting with the deep red of the base, which links to the Brand’s corporate colours”, David Wilkie went on to say. The front grille is crafted in metal and features aggressive, imposing lines (“like an angry bulldog”, suggests Wilkie), and big vents to let in the air required to cool the powerful FPT Industrial engine.

The huge interest raised by Case IH’s driverless tractor is a strong indication that autonomous vehicles are coming and will likely be adopted sooner by the farming industry than the automotive sector, where the greatest stumbling block is legislation and infrastructures management.

Eric Jacobsthal agrees: “Autonomous systems would answer many of the problems associated with very large fields, and improve productivity. We have been working for years in collaboration with our technology provider ASI (Autonomous Solutions Incorporated) to develop these technologies and their possible applications. This tractor exemplifies the potential of these solutions and the enormous benefits that will arise from their use.”

Full article in Auto&Design no. 222