John Deere Releases First Autonomous Tractor
By: Sydney Sheffield
John Deere, the agricultural manufacturing company, revealed its first autonomous tractor for large-scale production use. The company states the invention is a way to helper farmers and ranchers who are challenged to produce more with less land.
"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%," according to a press release from John Deere. "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."
The tractor combines current Deere technology such as GPS navigation, horsepower, and plows, with newer innovations that allow it to be autonomous. All farmers need to do to operate the equipment is set in their field and use their mobile device to start the tractor, according to John Deere. While the machine is on, the farmer can then leave the field. From their mobile device, farmers will be able to monitor the tractor and see things such as live video, images, data, and metrics that will allow the farmer to make any adjustments as needed.
During the Consumer Electronics Show (CSE) where Deere unveiled the tractor, RFD TV interviewed Taylor Nelson, a 5th generation corn and soybean farmer from Nebraska who attended CSE to gather a farmer’s perspective on the invention. “As a customer, I’m just really excited about what John Deere has been able to bring to the table. It is going to solve a lot of problems as we look forward. We are challenged with efficiency, variability, and finding the labor that we need. Ultimately, it comes down to a quality-of-life, to have time with our families, and there are so many of these challenges that this provides a solution for.” Nelson also stated that the tractor could help breach the generational gap in farming and attract younger people who are interested in artificial intelligence.
The tractor is estimated to be priced around $600,000 but Deere will also sell the automation system separately, so it can be downloaded into tractors farmers might currently own. Deere has generated a negative reputation among some farmers for being too technologically advanced. Many farmers are unable to repair the equipment themselves and there is even a function using cloud technology where Deere can remotely shut off equipment that has been modified or a lease payment has been missed.
"I'm all for innovation, and I think John Deere is a helluva company, but they're trying to be the Facebook of farming," Kevin Kenney, an agricultural engineer who believes farmers have the right to repair their equipment, told Wired. Eventually, Kenney says, Deere may not even need farmers, dispatching autonomous tractors to manage large-scale “robotic farms.”
The autonomous tractor will be available for purchase in Fall 2022.