Deere deploys fully autonomous tractor at CES


Deere & Co. said on Tuesday it has developed a fully autonomous tractor designed for large-scale agriculture and that it plans to sell the machine later this year.

The vehicle has the familiar green tint of a John Deere tractor. It sports a steering wheel in the cabin, massive tires around classic yellow wheels, and a convolutional neural network, which comes standard in the autonomous tractor. It also has redundant braking and steering systems for an added layer of safety.

The self-contained tractor is a version of Deere’s existing 8R series machine, the larger of which has 410 horsepower. Current 8R users can upgrade their tractors with the autonomous driving system.

Inside the cabin.


Photo:

John deere

The Deere tractor, unveiled at the CES 2022 tech conference in Las Vegas, is not the world’s first autonomous tractor. Smaller autonomous tractors are used on specialized farms.

The application of the technology to larger vehicles is just beginning and promises to be very significant, according to Aron Cory, research director for global agriculture at International Data Corp.

“The shift from conventional tractors to autonomous tractors is going to be like the shift from horses to the combustion engine,” he said.

Deere said its new 8R Series tractor is designed for large-scale agricultural applications. The Moline Company, Ill., Founded in 1837, is America’s largest farm equipment manufacturer by sales.

Deere has yet to price the tractor.

The autonomous driving system is equipped with six pairs of cameras, three at the front and three at the rear, which provide a 360-degree view of the tractor environment. The images are transmitted to the on-board computer, where a convolutional neural network, an advanced form of artificial intelligence that analyzes the images, classifies the pixels into milliseconds, identifies objects in the path of the tractor and determines whether the tractor should stay on course, go around an obstacle or stop.

A farmer monitors and manages the autonomous tractor from a mobile app that provides live video and continuous data on machine operations. Farmers have the option of driving the vehicle from the cab.

Deere’s autonomous tractor has six pairs of cameras for a 360-degree view of its surroundings.


Photo:

John deere

Manufacturers of agricultural equipment, including several startups such as Monarch Tractor and Carbon Autonomous Robotics Systems Inc., have worked for years on driverless tractors and other autonomous machines for tasks such as planting, harvesting and harvesting. weeding.

Monarch Tractor manufactures self-contained electric tractors with 40 to 70 horsepower engines. Tractors are used in vineyards, orchards and other farms.

While Tesla and others are already offering assisted driving features, startups Waymo, Cruise, TuSimple, and Aurora are betting their self-driving vehicles will make driving a thing of the past. The WSJ asked them about security and other challenges they face. Composite photo: George Downs

Deere also marketed its AutoTrac power steering system, which guides a tractor along a preprogrammed route using GPS and allows farmers in a cab to take their hands off the wheel so they can focus on the conditions. terrain and equipment settings. The option is available in all of Deere’s existing 8R series.

IDC said the industry is poised to experience rapid growth over the next five years as autonomous tractor technology matures, farm labor shortages persist, and farm businesses continue to seek out. ways to increase agricultural productivity.

Autonomous tractors will have a significant impact on agriculture, said IDC’s Dr Cory. Machines must be able to operate 24 hours a day, which makes more efficient use of labor; better application of seedlings, fertilizers and other inputs; and lead to higher yields and lower ecological impact, he said.

Other major agricultural equipment manufacturers like AGCO Corp.

and CNH Industrial NV work on autonomous tractors. AGCO, which owns brands such as Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Precision Planting, develops a number of self-driving vehicles, from motorcycle-sized planters to large farm tractors. The company said it plans to start marketing these driverless vehicles within the next five years. CNH Industrial, which owns the Case IH and New Holland Agriculture brands, has developed a pair of autonomous concept tractors, but does not have a specific timeline for bringing them to market.

Deere 8R tractors equipped with the autonomous drive system will initially be configured to operate autonomously with a scissor plow, which is used to plow the soil. But the company said the tractor can be driven by farmers for other tasks and could potentially operate completely on its own with planters, herbicide sprayers and other farm equipment.

There are still hurdles to overcome before autonomous tractors are widely adopted. Farm equipment manufacturers need to prove to farmers that the devices can operate safely and that they are not vulnerable to cyber threats, said IDC’s Dr Cory.

Deere said it has a full-time team dedicated to keeping its machines and farmers’ data safe.

Write to John McCormick at [email protected]

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