Agriculture Goes Autonomous: John Deere’s Ambitious Plans for Future Tractors
During its Leaps Unlocked event, John Deere stated that it’s the company’s goal to include an autonomy kit on every large tractor it ships.
Last week, John Deere hosted the Leaps Unlocked event for investors and customers. The company leadership talked about how John Deere aims to become a world-leading robotics and artificial intelligence company, and that new autonomous solutions will be developed rapidly.
Autonomy in agriculture – easier than automotive
Willy Pell, Deere’s vice president of autonomy and new ventures, said autonomy in agriculture is much easier to achieve than in – for instance – automotive. “There are a lot less variables. Our machines primarily see skies, trees, dirt and the occasional piece of farm equipment. A tractor also moves slower than a car, so that puts a lot less pressure on processing speeds. And our machines can stop at any time, there no risk of getting rear-ended.”
John Deere recently acquired Light, a California-based company that develops depth sensing and camera perception for autonomous vehicles. John Deere will integrate the Light platform, Clarity, into its autonomous tractors.
Pell said the acquisition of Light and its technology allows Deere to have smaller and cheaper hardware that is more performant and gives better depth at range. “The goal finally being that all large tractors that ship, come with that autonomy kit on board.”
Going its own way with autonomous technology development
According to John Deere’s chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman, the company prefers to develop its own autonomous technology rather than create partnerships. “We made it our strategy 30 years ago to vertically integrate technology that we viewed as core to our end-markets.” Hindman said these end-markets often require customization, and Deere “values the customer experience”.
John Deere acquired Bear Flag Robotics for $ 250 million USD in 2021. With the help of Bear Flag Robotics’ technology, John Deere accelerated autonomous technology on the farm. Their latest example is the 8R autonomous tractor.
“The technology John Deere uses to power the 8R will find its way to the entire Deere machinery fleet and to other jobs” said, Igino Cafiero, CEO and founder of Bear Flag Robotics said. “We started with the 8R and tillage, and that makes sense. But autonomy will in the future include high-value crops suchs as orchards and vineyards, and even combines and harvesters.”
Fully autonomous corn and soy production system
Cafiero said Deere is planning a fully autonomous corn and soy production system by 2030. “That means spring tillage, planting, spraying, harvest and fall tillage all done autonomously. In order to accelerate that adoption, we plan to include the required autonomous sensors in the base configuration of the 8R tractor.”
“We‘ve solved the autonomy and automation part, what can we do on top of that?,” said Cafiero. “We’re creating a system that is greater that the sum of its parts.”