Controlling a tractor with a radio remote

A remote-controlled John Deere 5103 tractor adapted by Mississippi State University agricultural engineers demonstrates how much control modification can be made to a vehicle with little effort. The tractor is set up with an off-the-shelf radio remote for control over 10 functions. For safety purposes, the vehicle is set up with two remote control radio units. On some operations, both have to be activated.

A solenoid hydraulic valve allows a person to drive with the steering wheel while on the tractor, or by radio signals from a remote location. The tractor, which has a front end loader, has a television camera in front linked with a monitor so the operator can see what is immediately in front of the tractor. The loader can be operated remotely, and the bucket can be tilted and curled.

“We can raise and lower the hitch point on the back,” said Mississippi State University agricultural engineer Herb Willcutt. “We went to air control systems for the clutch and brakes. We can start the tractor, operate the tractor, and are now able to shift gears remotely in a manual collar shift transmission.”

The main purpose of the vehicle is for a rollover tractor demonstration as part of Willcutt’s safety education efforts. “We want to demonstrate before a live audience how easy it is to turn a tractor over, either a sideways roll or a backwards flip, or roll pallets or hay bales on top of the operator.”

But the technology on the tractor could benefit farmers with disabilities, too. “The tractor could be operated with switches or buttons instead of levers and pedals or with a joystick, depending on any limitations in an operator’s movement. Coupled with automatic guidance this could be a very operator friendly tractor for a person with a disability.”

Willcutt stressed that the first objective when equipping a tractor for a disabled person’s operation “is to never modify the basic controls of the tractor and keep controls operating in a logical manner. If a person without a disability got on it, they would still be able to operate it.”

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