John Deere reveals ‘life-changer’ self-driving tractor

Deere & Co. is ready to put a self-driving, robo tractor into production and have the machines available to farmers later this year, the Moline-based manufacturer announced.

During a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 4, John Deere officials revealed a fully autonomous tractor that they say is ready for field work. The announcement came at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The high-tech system combines Deere’s 8R tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plow, GPS guidance system and other advanced technologies.

In a report from the Reuters news agency, Deere plans a low-volume launch of the new technology, delivering 12 to 20 machines later in the year before scaling up.

“The autonomous tractor serves a specific purpose: feeding the world,” Deere said. “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%.”

Deere officials added that farmers just need to put the self-driving tractor in the field, configure it for autonomous operation and let the 8R tractor do the rest.

While the machine is working, the farmer can leave the field and monitor the tractor’s status from a mobile device, Deere said in a news release.

“It’s going to be a life-changer for me,” Doug Nimz, a fourth-generation farmer from Blue Earth, Minnesota, said in a promotional video about Deere’s fully autonomous tractor. “On farms, labor is always a challenge… It has helped reduce our labor load.”

The Nimz farm served as a testing ground for Deere engineers to work on the new-age tractor for the past few years.

Mr. Nimz added that a big advantage to the autonomous tractor is it can “run hard” for 24 hours a day, if needed, when soil conditions are right. Also, the new tractor will free up farmers from being “locked in the (tractor) cab” so they can focus on other jobs.

The Minnesota farmer said he knows many farmers are very traditional and might not immediately flock to the new technology. But he adds that once they try it, they will love the new autonomous tractor.

Some of the new tractor’s features include:

  • Six pairs of cameras enable 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation for distance.
  • Images captured by the cameras are passed through a neural network that classified each pixel in about 100 milliseconds and determines if the machine continues or stops, depending on any possible obstacles.
  • The tractor also is continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to – within less than an inch of accuracy.

The fully autonomous tractor is currently on display at Deere’s CES booth, located in the Central Plaza at the Las Vegas Convention Center. 

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