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Technology in ag: John Deere reveals fully autonomous 8R tractor

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Can you imagine driving down a county road and see you a farmer working up his land … but wait, there isn’t a driver in the tractor! That could be the new normal in agriculture thanks to advancements in technology.

Agriculture has made a lot of progress over the past few decades when it comes to technology and equipment. One of the biggest advancements includes a fully autonomous tractor for production agriculture. During a news conference at the technology trade show CES 2022 in Las Vegas, John Deere revealed a fully autonomous tractor that’s ready for large-scale production. The machine combines Deere’s 8R tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plow, GPS guidance system, and new advanced technologies. 

The autonomous tractor serves a specific purpose: feeding the world. The global population is expected to grow from about 8 billion to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, increasing the global food demand by 50 percent. Furthermore, farmers must feed this growing population with less available land and skilled labor, and work through the variables inherent in farming like changing weather conditions and climate, variations in soil quality and the presence of weeds and pests. All of these factors impact a farmer’s ability to farm during the most critical times of the year.

The autonomous tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras, which enables 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation of distance. Images captured by the cameras are passed through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds and determines if the machine continues to move or stops, depending on if an obstacle is detected. The autonomous tractor is also continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to, and is within less than an inch of accuracy.

John Deere’s autonomous tractor comes more than five years after CNH Industrial’s Case IH brand revealed the concept for an autonomous tractor at the 2016 Farm Progress Show. The Case tractor was designed by the in-house Industrial Design Center and was based on the Case IH Magnum series tractor (185-380 horsepower). The concept’s design was focused on both form and function, reimagining the tractor for a future autonomous era by eliminating the traditional operator cab. While it went on to win the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design and Metropolitan Arts Press’ prestigious GOOD DESIGN Award in 2017, no timeline has ever been given for bringing it to market. Nor has there been published strategy for bringing CNH’s New Holland-branded autonomous tractor to market.

That makes John Deere’s advancements in this space even more exciting for the industry.

To use Deere’s autonomous tractor, farmers only need to transport the machine to a field and configure it for autonomous operation. Using John Deere Operations Center Mobile, they can swipe from left to right to start the machine. While the machine is working the farmer can leave the field to focus on other tasks, while monitoring the machine’s status from their mobile device. The autonomous 8R Tractor can prepare over 325 acres of soil in 24 hours — that’s bigger than the land area of the National Mall in Washington, D.C

John Deere Operations Center Mobile provides access to live video, images, data and metrics, and allows a farmer to adjust speed, depth and more. In the event of any job quality anomalies or machine health issues, farmers will be notified remotely and can make adjustments to optimize the performance of the machine.

The autonomous tractor will be available to farmers later this year.

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