Tech

The autonomous John Deere tractor takes us one step closer to farming

The most exciting gadget of the year is not TV that displays NFT or foldable tablet computer or anything to do with the metaverse. This is an autonomous tractor.

More precisely, it is self-driving tractor John Deere 8R which can plow fields, avoid obstacles and plant crops with minimal human intervention. It’s very similar to any other John Deere tractor – it’s green and yellow – but there are six pairs of stereo cameras that use AI to scan their 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, in time for the robot’s special harvest season.

“This is a big deal in my opinion,” said Santosh Pitla, assistant professor of advanced machine systems at the University of Nebraska to Recode. John Deere equipment accounts for more than half of all agricultural equipment sold in the United States, and even the simple fact that the company is bringing an autonomous tractor to market will change the way agriculture works. “This is big news,” Pitla said, “and good news.”

This is certainly a big deal for John Deere, but it also represents a huge step forward for the precision farming movement in general. To put it simply, precision farming it’s a concept which uses computers, data collection and satellite imagery to create a strategy for maximizing farm productivity. Autonomous agricultural equipment such as soil sensors, specialized drones and unmanned tractors are key to a future in which we can produce more crops. with less effort and less environmental impact… But who exactly is responsible for this future and who benefits from it remains to be determined.

There is reason to believe that farmers with thousands of acres will be the first in line to buy the new John Deere unmanned tractors. With models from 230 to 410 horsepower, John Deere 8R tractors large machines designed for large farms. Although the company did not disclose how much its new autonomous tractor will cost, existing 8R line models can cost over $ 600,000… John Deere says it will sell the automation system as a kit that can be installed on other tractor models. The company also says it is considering offering a subscription plan, but did not specify how much it will cost.

But even if the farmer buys the tractor straight away, it’s not clear who actually owns the equipment or the valuable agricultural data it collects. The newest John Deere tractors are equipped with sensors and are connected to the Internet. Almost everything a car does registered and uploaded to the cloud from the on-board cellular transmitter, and John Deere has the ability to remotely disable many of their tractors if he determines that someone modified their equipment or missed a rental payment. Many farmers say that even the tractors themselves cannot repairso that they do not turn on the switch that completely turns off the machine. This means they have to pay John Deere or its authorized repair shops for their maintenance needs. Meanwhile, John Deere’s privacy and data policy states that, under certain circumstances, the company may share farmer activity data that its software collects with “external parties.”

“I’m for innovation, and I think John Deere is a damn cool company,” says Kevin Kenny, agricultural engineer and advocate for repair rights. said to Wired after John Deere announced its autonomous tractor. “But they’re trying to be Facebook for agriculture.”

John Deere says it will sell self-driving kits separately so that older models can be retrofitted to become autonomous.
John Deere

John Deere isn’t the only one working on autonomous agricultural equipment, and it’s not even clear if it’s better to use this technology in large, self-propelled tractors. Case has autonomous tractor concept which doesn’t even have a cab for a human driver, and AGCO, which owns agricultural brands such as Fendt and Massey Ferguson, is testing smaller autonomous vehicles, including seed sowing robot this is the size of the washing machine. DJI, the popular drone manufacturer, now has an entire division dedicated to flying agricultural robots that can help with everything from crop monitoring to targeted pesticide spraying.

A number of researchers believe that swarms of small machines working together are more promising for a wider range of farmers. Pitla, a professor in Nebraska, is working on technology to replace one 500-horsepower tractor. with 10 50-horsepower tractors… Not only was the swarm better able to cope with different terrain and small farms, the land of which may not be as uniform as on large farms, but if one tractor broke down, the others could continue to work.

“I saw farmers planting for 18 hours because the weather was perfect and the soil conditions were perfect,” Pitla said. “This is a very timely operation. So in a sense, if you have a lot of these machines, you are spreading the risk. “

Considering the fact that the agricultural industry faces a persistent labor shortage, that some say it gets worse, the concept of autonomous agricultural equipment is even more attractive. This fact may allay fears that automation is taking away jobs from people, but it will likely take years before we realize how disruptive widespread agricultural automation can be for the labor market.

An agricultural drone sprays crops.

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

Farmers and technologists hope that self-driving tractors and other autonomous agricultural equipment will usher in an era of higher yields. The driving principle behind Precision Farming is that by better understanding the soil and solving crop problems, we can squeeze out more performance from the limited amount of agricultural land in the world without negative impact on the environment. This is leading to a growing debate about whether industrial agriculture is recklessly profit-oriented and land-exploited, or whether it is more efficient to combine farms. With proper implementation of autonomous farming technologies, we can have both.

“Like autonomous vehicles, complete autonomy for agricultural machinery and equipment can also be seen as an important, if not the ultimate goal in the agricultural industry,” said Abhisesh Silval, a scientist working on agricultural robots at Carnegie Mellon. University Institute of Robotics. He added that automating delicate, urgent tasks like pruning and harvesting, which usually require skilled workers, can contribute to long-term sustainability.

For now, while researchers are making drones and robotic swarms smarter, we have John Deere and his self-driving tractor. Even if it’s not suitable or affordable for every farmer, the new self-driving machine is making autonomous farming even more popular. And unlike a TV that can display NFTs, this technology can really help feed the world.

This story was originally published in the Recode newsletter. Sign here so as not to miss the next one!


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