John Deere Autonomous Tractor Brings Us A Little Closer to Auto-Farm

The most exciting gadget of the year isn’t a TV that displays NFTs or a foldable tablet computer or anything related to the Metaverse. It is an autonomous tractor.

Specifically, it is the autonomous John Deere 8R tractor that can plow fields, avoid obstacles and plant crops with minimal human intervention. It looks a lot like any other John Deere tractor – it’s green and yellow – but there are six pairs of stereo cameras that use artificial intelligence to scan the surroundings and maneuver accordingly. The farmer also does not need to be near the machine to operate it, as there is a smartphone app that controls everything. The tractor will go on sale later this year, just in time for a very special robotic harvest season.

“In my opinion, this is a big problem,” Santosh Pitla, associate professor of advanced machine systems at the University of Nebraska, told Recode. John Deere equipment makes up more than half of all farm machinery sold in the United States, and even the mere fact that it brings an autonomous tractor to the market will change the way farming works. “This is great news,” said Pitla, “and it’s great news.”

This is clearly a big deal for John Deere, but it also represents a huge step forward for the precision farming movement as a whole. Simply put, precision farming is a concept that uses computers, data collection, and satellite imagery to develop a strategy to maximize a farm’s production. Autonomous agricultural equipment such as soil sensors, specialized drones and autonomous tractors are the key to a future where we can produce more crops with less effort and less environmental impact. But exactly who is in charge of this future and who benefits from it remains to be determined.

There is reason to believe that farmers who own thousands of acres will be the first to buy John Deere’s new autonomous tractors. With models ranging from 230 to 410 horsepower, John Deere 8R tractors are big machines designed for large farms. And while the company has not specified how much its new autonomous tractor will cost, the existing and non-autonomous models in the 8R line can cost more than $ 600,000. John Deere announces that it will sell the automation system as a kit that can be installed on its other tractor models. The company also said it was considering offering a subscription plan, but didn’t say how much that would cost.

But even if a farmer purchases the tractor directly, it is not clear who actually owns the valuable farm equipment or data they collect. The latest John Deere tractors are full of sensors and connected to the Internet. Almost everything the machine does is recorded and transmitted to the cloud from an on-board cellular transmitter, and John Deere has the ability to remotely stop many of its tractors if it determines that someone has changed its equipment. or missed a rental payment. Many farmers say they can’t even repair the tractors themselves, lest they trigger a switch that turns the machine off completely. This means that they are obligated to pay John Deere or its authorized repair shops for their maintenance needs. Meanwhile, John Deere’s data and privacy policy says it may share farmer activity data that its software collects with “outside parties” under certain circumstances.

“I’m all for innovation, and I think John Deere is a hell of a business,” agricultural engineer and repair advocate Kevin Kenney told Wired after John Deere announced its autonomous tractor. “But they’re trying to be the Facebook of agriculture.”

John Deere says it will sell self-driving kits separately so older models can be upgraded to be self-driving.
John deere

John Deere isn’t the only one working on autonomous farm implements, and it’s not even clear that large, self-contained tractors are the best use of technology. Case has an autonomous tractor concept that doesn’t even have a cabin for a human driver, and AGCO, which owns brands of agricultural equipment like Fendt and Massey Ferguson, is testing smaller, autonomous machines, including a planting robot. of seeds the size of a Washing Machine. DJI, the famous drone maker, now has an entire division dedicated to flying agricultural robots that can help you with everything from monitoring crops to targeted spraying of pesticides.

A number of researchers believe that swarms of small machines working together hold more promise for a wider range of farmers. Pitla, the professor from Nebraska, is working on technology that would replace a single 500-horsepower tractor with 10 50-horsepower tractors. Not only could the swarm better handle different terrains and small farms, the land of which might not be as even as the large farms, but if one tractor broke, the others could continue to operate.

“I’ve seen farmers plant 6pm because the weather is perfect, the soil conditions are perfect,” said Pitla. “It’s a very timely operation. So in a way, if you have swarms of these machines, you spread the risk.

When you consider the fact that the agricultural industry faces a continuing labor shortage, which some say is worsening, the concept of self-contained farming equipment is even more appealing. This fact could allay fears that automation will take jobs away from humans, but it will likely be years before we understand just how disruptive the widespread adoption of automation in agriculture could be for the job market.

An agricultural drone spraying crops.

The DJI AGRAS T30 can use GPS coordinates to spray specific crops and uses radar to avoid obstacles along the way.

Farmers and technologists hope that autonomous tractors and other autonomous farm equipment will usher in an era of higher yields. The guiding principle of precision agriculture is that by better understanding the soil and addressing crop-related issues, we can extract more productivity from the world’s limited amount of farmland without negatively impacting the environment. This is fueling a growing debate about whether industrialized agriculture is recklessly profit-oriented and exploiting the land, or whether farm consolidation is more effective. With the right deployment of autonomous farming technology, we could have it both ways.

“Similar to the autonomous automobile industry, the full autonomy of agricultural vehicles and equipment can also be seen as an important goal, if not the ultimate goal of the agriculture industry,” said Abhisesh Silwal, a scientist on the project who works on agricultural robots at Carnegie Mellon. University Institute of Robotics. He added that automating delicate and urgent tasks like pruning and harvesting, which typically require skilled workers, could contribute to long-term sustainability.

For now, as researchers are making drones and swarm robots smarter, we have John Deere and his autonomous tractor. While not suitable or affordable for all farmers, the new autonomous machine pushes autonomous farming further into the mainstream. And unlike the TV that can display NFTs, this technology can actually help feed the world.

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