Kotonki: Agricultural Vehicle Built For Customization

Agriculture on any scale involves many tasks that require lifting, hauling, pushing, and pulling. On many modern farms, these tasks are often done using an array of specialized (and expensive) equipment. This puts many small-scale farmers, especially those in developing countries, under significant financial pressure. These challenges led a South African engineering firm to develop the Kotonki, a low-cost hydraulically powered utility vehicle that can be customized for a wide variety of use cases. Video after the break.

The name Kotonki is derived from the Setswana phrase for a donkey kart. It is in essence a self-propelled hydraulic power pack, capable of hauling 1 ton of anything that can fit on its load bed. It comes in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions, with each wheel individually driven by a hydraulic motor. The simple welded steel frame articulates around a double pivot, which allows it to keep all 4 wheels on the ground over any terrain. At a max speed of 10 km/h it won’t win any races, but neither would most other agricultural vehicles. The Kotonki is built mostly using off-the-shelf components and is powered by a common 12HP Honda engine. In the world of DRM agricultural equipment, this makes for simple repairs, low running costs, and easy customization for the task at hand. This can include mounting log splitters, water pumps, lifting beds, or anything else that can be driven by its hydraulic and rotary PTOs (Power Take-Off).

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For Once, The Long Arm Of John Deere Presses The Right Button

Over many years now we’ve covered right-to-repair stories, and among them has been a constant bête noire. The American farm machinery manufacturer John Deere whose instantly recognisable green and yellow tractors have reliably tilled the soil for over a century, have become the poster child for inappropriate use of DRM. It’s enough to make any farmer see red, but there’s a story from CNN which shows another side to manufacturer control. A Deere dealership in Melitopol, Ukraine, was looted by invading Russian forces, who took away an estimated $5m worth of farm machinery. The perfect crime perhaps, save for the Deere computer system being used to remotely disable them leaving the crooks with combine harvesters they can’t even start.

It makes for a good news story showing the Ukranians getting one over on the looters, and since on-farm thefts are a hot topic anywhere in the world it’s not entirely unexpected that Deere would have incorporated a kill-switch in their products. Recently we covered a look at how the relationship between motor vehicle owner and manufacturer is changing from one of product ownership to software licence, and this is evidently an example of the same thing in the world of machinery. It’s reported that the looters are seeking the help of tractor hackers, which may be unfortunate for them since the world’s go-to source for hacked Deere software is Ukraine. Perhaps they would be better remembering that Russia has legendary tractors of its own.

Thanks [Robert Piston] for the tip.

This John Deere Tractor Doesn’t Need A Driver

While most autonomous vehicles are meant to travel over the highway, John Deere’s new 8R tractor shown at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show will likely only traverse fields and it will do so without a human at the wheel.

The tractor is slated to be available to farmers in late 2022 and has six pairs of stereo cameras to generate a 360 degree view of obstacles. It also uses location technology, including GPS, to ensure it is where it is supposed to be with a claimed accuracy of 1 inch. You can see a video about the beast below.

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Riding Mower Repair Uncovers Miniature Culprit

Most people would be pretty upset it the lawn mower they spent $4,000 USD on had a major failure within the first year of owning it. But for [xxbiohazrdxx], it was an excuse to take a peek under the hood and figure out what brought down this state-of-the-art piece of landscaping gear.

It should be said that, at least technically, the Husqvarna TS 348XD in question was still working. It’s just that [xxbiohazrdxx] noticed the locking differential, which is key to maintaining traction on hilly terrain, didn’t seem to be doing anything when the switch was pressed. Since manually moving the engagement lever on the transmission locked up the differential as expected, the culprit was likely in the electronics.

Testing the dead actuator.

As [xxbiohazrdxx] explains, the switch on the dash is connected to a linear actuator that moves the lever on the transmission. The wiring and switch tested fine with a multimeter, but when the actuator was hooked up to a bench power supply, it didn’t move. Even more telling, it wasn’t drawing any power. Definitely not a good sign. Installing a new actuator would have solved the problem, but it was an expensive part that would take time to arrive.

Repairing the dead actuator seemed worth a shot at least, so [xxbiohazrdxx] cracked it open. The PCB looked good, and there were no obviously toasted components. But when one of the internal microswitches used to limit the travel of the actuator was found to be jammed in, everything started to make sense. With the switch locked in the closed position, the actuator believed it was already fully extended and wouldn’t move. After opening the switch itself and bending the contacts back into their appropriate position, everything worked as expected.

A tiny piece of bent metal kept this $4,000 machine from operating correctly.

As interesting as this step-by-step repair process was, what struck us the most is [xxbiohazrdxx]’s determination to fix rather than replace. At several points it would have been much easier to just swap out a broken part for a new one, but instead, the suspect part was carefully examined and coaxed back to life with the tools and materials on-hand.

While there’s plenty of folks who wouldn’t mind taking a few days off from lawn work while they wait for their replacement parts to arrive, not everyone can afford the luxury. Expedient repairs are critical when your livelihood depends on your equipment, which is why manufacturers making it harder and more expensive for farmers to fix their tractors has become such a major issue in right to repair battles all over the globe.

Solar Powered Weeding Tractor Uses Manual Labour

You might not have realised this, but there’s a group of hackers out there without whom you wouldn’t be able to put food on the table. They hack under the blazing sun and pouring rain, and have been doing it for thousands of years. Known more commonly as farmers, their creative problem solving skills with whatever is lying around can be absolutely jaw dropping. [Andrew Mans] is one such individual. He built a solar powered weeding tractor that uses human labour to do the actual weeding.

We’ll be honest, this made us go “Wait, what?” for a few seconds, until the ingenuity of it all sank in. Crawling at a snails pace across the onion fields at Mans Organics, the contraption allows 3 workers to lie comfortably on their stomachs in a shaded tent, while pulling weeds that grow too close to the crop for conventional mechanised weeding methods. While this might seem like a slightly crappy job at first glance, there are definitely worse jobs a farm (or in an office) and actually looks quite relaxing. While the picking could of course be automated, this is no small task, especially when your business is food production, not robotics.

Power is provided from four 250 W solar panels on the roof, which charge a bank of deep cycle batteries and the drive train. A pure sine wave converter provides power to a 240 V motor driver which turns it back into DC to run the drive motor. [Andrew] admits this back and forth voltage conversion is overcomplicated and inefficient but it’s the sort of thing that quickly happens when you hack a hacked design. The axle and 5-speed gearbox was salvaged from an old 3 ton truck and is mounted vertically to save space. The hydraulic steering is controlled by one of the human weed pickers, who just makes small course corrections as required.

We love the weird combo of old and new in this hack. Check out the machine in action and detailed walk-around after the break. Continue reading “Solar Powered Weeding Tractor Uses Manual Labour”

Electric Dump Truck Tricycle Is No Toy

There are some utility bicycles on the market, some with electric motors to help carry a good bit of cargo. If you really need to haul more weight than a typical grocery-getter like this, you’ll want to look into a tricycle for higher capacity loads. Nothing you’ll find will match this monstrous electric tricycle hand-built by [AtomicZombie] out of junkyard parts, though. It’s a mule.

Since [AtomicZombie] sourced most of the underpinnings of this build from the junkyard, it’s based on an old motorcycle frame combined with the differential from a pickup truck, with a self-welded frame. He’s using an electric motor and a fleet of lead acid batteries for the build (since weight is no concern) and is using a gear reduction large enough to allow him to haul logs and dirt with ease (and dump them with the built in dump-truck bed), and even pull tree stumps from the ground, all without taxing the motor.

[AtomicZombie] documented every step of the build along the way, and it’s worth checking out. He uses it as a farm tractor on his homestead, and it is even equipped with a tow hitch to move various pieces of equipment around. Unlike a similar three-wheeled electric contraption from a while back, though, this one almost certainly isn’t street legal, but it’s still a blast!

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The Weedinator Returns

We are delighted to see The Weedinator as an entry for the 2018 Hackaday Prize! Innovations in agriculture are great opportunities to build something to improve our world. [TegwynTwmffat]’s Weedinator is an autonomous, electric platform aimed at small farms to take care of cultivating, tilling, and weeding seedbeds. The cost of this kind of labor can push smaller farms out of sustainability if it has to be done by people.

Greater efficiency in agriculture is traditionally all about multiplying the work a single person can do, and usually takes the form or bigger and heavier equipment that can do more at once and in less time. But with an autonomous robotic platform, the robot doesn’t get tired or bored so it doesn’t matter if the smaller platform needs to make multiple passes to cover a field or accomplish a task. In fact, smaller often means more maneuverable, more manageable, and more energy-efficient when it comes to a small farm.

The Original Weedinator was a contender for the 2017 Hackaday Prize and we’re deeply excited to see it return with an updated design and new people joining their team for 2018. Remember, there’s money set aside to help bootstrap promising concepts and all you really need to get started is an idea, an image, and documentation. There’s no better opportunity to dust off that idea and see if it has legs.