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Putting autonomous technology to work

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Colin Hurd

Mach

Across every segment of agriculture, autonomous solutions have the potential to make farmers more productive, efficient and sustainable, and alleviate labor challenges. However, bringing these autonomous solutions from the lab to commercial reality requires a complex network of technologies, equipment, support systems and expertise that can be daunting for many companies and innovators. 

Mach is focused on solving those challenges for manufacturers. Working exclusively with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in off-road machinery industries, Mach provides autonomy solutions including perception, navigation, route planning, monitoring and connectivity.

“One of our core focus areas is working with mid-size manufacturers who might not have the budget or expertise to develop autonomous solutions internally,” said Colin Hurd, CEO of Mach. “If a manufacturer has a vehicle and wants it to be autonomy-ready, we can provide the hardware, software, support systems and whatever they need to make it happen.”

Mach was created with the merger of two leading companies — LSA Autonomy and Redshield Electronics — in the off-road autonomy sector in December 2022. Maryland-based LSA Autonomy brought a decade of expertise working with autonomous solutions, including projects with the Department of Defense, and Iowa-based Redshield Electronics was engaged in several systems using machine learning and autonomy. The company has continued its operations in both states and has an office at the Iowa State University Research Park in Ames.

The strengths and expertise of the combined companies are a good fit for the challenges of developing autonomous solutions in agriculture and other off-road industries, said Hurd. 

“Every job in agriculture has unique aspects, requiring levels of customization for each task that will be performed by an autonomous vehicle,” said Hurd.

More than 260 autonomous vehicles developed in collaboration with Mach have been commercially deployed, resulting in 140,000 driverless miles and more than 200,000 hours of operation. The company has worked with GUSS autonomous sprayer systems used in California orchards, as well as AMOS Power and Vermeer’s Bale Hawk concept machine.

“As you look across the industry, there really isn’t anyone with that track record, and that real world experience is what drew me to Mach,” said Hurd. “We have full R&D capabilities at both Iowa and Maryland locations which gives us access to top talent in both areas and allows us to effectively execute multiple customer projects at one time.”

Looking ahead, he sees opportunities for Mach to solidify its role as the leading collaborator for OEMs to develop commercial autonomous vehicles and to grow the number of vehicles that are using the company’s technology. Another focus area is collaborating with manufacturers to ensure that “smart” implements will be ready to be used with autonomous tractors as the market develops.

“There is quite a bit of sophistication needed for the “behind the hitch” technology to make sure an implement works with an autonomous tractor,” he said. “We’re working with companies to make sure they have autonomous-ready equipment for their customers.”

Iowa advantage

Hurd brings experience and a proven track record in building autonomy and ag technology startups to his role at Mach.  After graduating from Iowa State University, he developed TrackTill, a product and company to reduce soil compaction, which was commercialized and licensed to Yetter Manufacturing.  In 2016, he founded his second company, Smart Ag, which developed the first retrofit driverless system to automate tractors. After funding and growing the company, he led Smart Ag successfully through an exit to Raven Industries in 2019. Raven was acquired by CNH Industrial. 

He sees a location in Iowa as an advantage to startups and founders in the ag technology industry.

“In my opinion, there is no better place in the world to build ag technology than Iowa,” said Hurd. “For Mach, we are in close proximity to a lot of our ag-focused manufacturing customers and in a hot spot of cutting-edge technology development, especially with Iowa State’s AI program focused on agriculture.”

Hurd is also a co-director of Ag Startup Engine, a private systematic program to fund Midwest agtech entrepreneurs and help them toward success through mentorship and financial support. He has experienced the growth of Iowa’s start-up ecosystem over the past decade and is actively working to attract more capital investors to the state and Midwest.

“The number of resources, accelerators and support has evolved drastically. If you are starting a company, you can find a number of resources available to you,” he said. “It is exciting to see that evolution and growth in organized capital as well.” 

Published July 2023.

Corridor News