EYE ON INNOVATION: Self-Driving Tractor Harvests Interest from Ag Industry

The latest innovation in tractors for the modern farm “features everything but the farmer,” muses a recent headline in a story from Bloomberg News about an autonomous tractor concept from CNH Industrial.

“As Detroit carmakers and Silicon Valley tech giants vie to bring driverless cars to U.S. roads, one of the world’s largest tractor makers is looking to do the same down on the farm,” Bloomberg reports.

This self-driving tractor, a Case IH Magnum prototype model from CNH Industrial, was revealed for the first time last month at a farm equipment show in Iowa.
Photo: Wall Street Journal

At a farm equipment show in Iowa in September, CNH Industrial (Case IH/New Holland) revealed its Autonomous Concept Vehicle, which drew strong interest from those in attendance.

The cabless, self-driving tractor—a Case IH Magnum prototype model—is equipped with cameras, radar, and GPS, enabling farmers to remotely monitor planting and harvesting via computer or tablet from their homes, barns, fields, or pickup trucks. A second concept model, the New Holland T8 NH, includes a cab, so that the tractor can be operated either by a driver or in autonomous mode.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: ‘Smart’ Backpack Geared For Travelers, Students

More than 35 million Americans are expected to travel this Labor Day weekend. Plus, more than 77 million schoolchildren and college-age students will be getting ready to return to classrooms. The omnipresent backpack—great for traveling and for students—will likely be along for the ride.

These days, backpacks are doing more than just carrying your stuff. Take the iBackPack, which will enable you to connect to the internet, charge your devices, and track your location.

Photo Courtesy: iBackPack

As Gizmo Times reports, the iBackPack includes:

  • Tesla-style battery systems
  • Personal Wi-Fi hot spot that connects to 3G/4G networks
  • Retractable power USB cord
  • GPS tracking system
  • Bluetooth proximity locator—making it easier to find your bag in airports or other crowded locations
  • Bluetooth speaker system
  • Multiple USB connections to charge multiple devices at once.

Storage compartments abound to keep laptops, smart phones, tablets, and documents secure. Plus, it’s water and abrasion resistant, and TSA- and Department of Transportation-compliant.

Photo Courtesy: iBackPack

The product’s crowdfunding success at Indiegogo has been over the top, with nearly $700,000 raised, which is 892 percent of its original funding goal. Funding also has come from Kickstarter and other sources.

Several models of the product are expected to be available by December, ranging in price from $170-$350.

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.


EYE ON INNOVATION: GolfBoard Designers Take a Swing at New Approach to Golf Carts

Our search for innovation has led us to the golf course. Well, it is summer after all.

The makers of GolfBoard claim it is the greatest invention in golf since the graphite shaft and is forever changing the way golfers experience the game. Hyperbole aside, it does look like a fun alternative to riding a golf cart.

The GolfBoard is powered by a lithium-ion battery, and is a fully electric vehicle that golfers basically stand on and steer. Designers incorporated front and back gear boxes that provide power to all four wheels, plus a proprietary “Spring Deck” technology that uses flexible spring plates that provide a smooth ride. The GolfBoard also includes an industrial-grade electric motor and fully enclosed drivetrain for reliability and low maintenance.

More than 200 U.S. courses now offer GolfBoard rentals, and the product has been winning awards, including Best New Product Award at the 2014 PGA Merchandising Show, and the 2016 Best Club Transport Award from Golf Digest Magazine. The magazine calls it “a combination of electronic snowboard and golf cart” that “provides a bit of a workout for those feeling guilty about not walking.”

Beyond the golf course rental market, GolfBoards sell individually for $6,500.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Proto Labs Salutes ‘Smart’ Companies on MIT List

The 50 Smartest Companies for 2016, as compiled by MIT Technology Review in its recent annual list, combine cutting-edge technology with effective business models.

In our on-going quest to seek out and identify innovation in manufacturing and technology, we salute these companies that, as the MIT folks say, “are ‘smart’ in the way they create new opportunities.”

In fact, we’re pleased to serve as a prototyping and low-volumes production parts supplier for a number of these companies (though non-disclosure considerations prevent us from identifying which ones we work with). We do take satisfaction in knowing that our digital manufacturing prowess has, in key ways, helped nurture the innovation these companies are being recognized for.

As the Review reports, some of this year’s stars are giant corporations like Amazon and Alphabet, which, “are using digital technologies to redefine industries.

Others are wrestling with technological changes: companies like Microsoft, Bosch…and Intel.” Automotive leaders such as Toyota and Tesla Motors are also on the list. Plus, you’ll find ambitious startups too, such as 23andMe, an innovator in consumer-accessible DNA testing.


Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.

EYE ON INNOVATION: 3D Printer Boldly Goes Where No Printer Has Gone Before

3D printing continues to break the bonds of traditional manufacturing methods. Now, a private company collaborating with NASA is breaking Earth’s bonds by taking 3D printing into space.

In April, at the International Space Station, NASA successfully tested a zero-gravity 3D printer that’s been in development for several years from California-based Made in Space.

Photo Courtesy: NASA

NASA found that the specially designed, zero-gravity 3D printer could in fact manufacture parts and tools on-site and on-demand. As NASA points out on its website, this on-site, in-orbit manufacturing ability would be a huge benefit for long-term, deep-space missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. The tests on board the space station included successfully printing items such as wrenches. So far, more than 25 objects have been produced.

As Gizmag.com reports, the zero-gravity printer is an extrusion printer that, like other 3D printers, builds up layers of hot liquefied ABS thermoplastic to create an object. However, a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. The printing functions were then all integrated into what is called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), part of an overall platform dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Photo Courtesy: Made in Space

As a spokesman for Made in Space says in a promotional video: “The goal…is pretty simple, but audacious…to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond Earth and live on other planets.”

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth considerations include, as Wonderfulengineering.com reports, Made in Space’s announcement this week that it is “going commercial and inviting the public [to purchase parts] made in the unique presence of zero gravity.”

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.