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Path Planning Technologies in Agriculture and Construction

Path planning technology is being used to optimize the trajectory of machines and vehicles across the agriculture and construction industries. The integration of this technology is significantly impacting the ag and construction industries and driving efficiencies in both. In the most basic form, path planning involves finding the most efficient route between two points while avoiding obstacles. In agriculture, path planning has been used to optimize the movement of tractors and other farm equipment to perform a specific task such as spraying, seeding or tilling; while in construction it has been used to optimize the movement of heavy machinery such as dozers, graders and compactors to perform spreading, leveling and compaction tasks, respectively.

Path planning in both agriculture and construction is becoming increasingly important due to the need for increased efficiency and productivity. In agriculture, the use of path planning allows farmers to optimize the movement of their equipment, reducing the time and resources required to complete tasks. Farmers are seeing increased productivity and reduced costs as a result of the integration. In construction, path planning is used  to optimize the movement of heavy machinery, reducing the time required to complete projects and improving safety on job sites. Path planning delivers a myriad of benefits in these industries—increased automation, autonomous operation of machines and the opportunity for workers to focus on more important tasks.

Path planning’s purpose is to find an efficient and collision-free trajectory to accomplish a specific task. Two important aspects the path planner requires when computing a trajectory: (1) the trajectory must take into account the capabilities and limitations of the vehicle: for example, maximum steering ability, speed, braking limitations, etc; and (2) the trajectory must strive for efficiency: for example complete the specified task in minimum time, distance traveled or number of turns. Completing tasks in minimum time increases throughput and productivity because path planning enables the machine to complete more tasks per day. Minimizing distance-traveled improves costs because the machines use less fuel and, in addition, this can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a greener planet. Finally, minimizing the number of turns indirectly reduces maintenance costs because there is less wear and tear in vehicles performing these tasks.

Path planning can be divided into two subcategories depending on the intended task: navigation path planning and coverage path planning. Navigation path planning is the most basic form and involves finding the most efficient trajectory between two points while avoiding obstacles. Coverage path planning involves computing an efficient trajectory such that the vehicle or its implement pass through every region of the workspace avoiding repetitions and minimizing turns as much as possible.

These path planning subcategories are important for solving problems in both agriculture and construction. In agriculture, coverage path planning provides efficient trajectories for a sprayer to go around the field for fertilization and pesticide application tasks. All the field must be covered by the sprayer’s boom so that every region can receive the specified amount of fertilizer or pesticide. The coverage should be uniform and the distance traveled by the sprayer should be as efficient as possible. Similarly, navigation path planning is crucial when moving the sprayer from a given point in the field to the closest refill station. In construction, coverage path planning produces efficient trajectories for a compactor when compacting a given area uniformly and with the target number of passes per lane. Navigation path planning provides collision-free trajectories to efficiently move the compactor from the previous area to the new area in the construction site. In all cases, path planning's ultimate objective is to compute trajectories to move the machine or vehicle such that it executes the intended task efficiently—reducing the time, the total traveled distance and the number of turns it takes to execute such a task. 

Trimble path planning technologies have enabled applications such as autonomous spraying and seeding in agriculture, as well as autonomous compaction in construction. It is also used to pre-plan trajectories on fields that later human operators or semi-autonomous machines can perform on-site, efficiently completing a task by minimizing the time and fuel usage. The use of Trimble path planning technologies has led to increased productivity and reduced labor costs in the agricultural and construction industries.