John Deere to roll out autonomous tractor that lets farmers leave the field

5 Jan 2022

The new autonomous tractor. Image: John Deere

The company is combining its GPS systems with new tech such as AI to help farmers control vehicles remotely.

Agricultural machinery giant John Deere is rolling out a tractor that can be operated autonomously – letting farmers leave the cab and even the field.

The company made the reveal at CES 2022, saying the autonomous tractor is ready for large-scale production and will be available to farmers later this year.

“With people moving from rural to urban areas, there is an ever-increasing gap between the labour that’s needed and the labour that’s available,” John Deere’s CTO, Jahmy Hindman, said at the consumer electronics event.

“Farmers need technology to do more with less … so that we can all put food on the table.”

The autonomous vehicle unveiled by the company combines its GPS guidance system with new advanced technologies. This includes six pairs of stereo cameras to detect obstacles and calculate distances all around the tractor.

An AI system analyses images captured by the cameras and can flag if an issue is observed. The tractor’s position is also continuously checked relative to a geofence, ensuring it’s operating in the place is it supposed to.

View inside the tractor cab, showing screens beside the steering wheel and nobody in the driving seat.

Inside the tractor’s cab. Image: John Deere

John Deere said that while the machine is working, this tech allows farmers to step away from the field and keep an eye on their machine remotely. They will be notified if any job quality anomalies or machine health issues are detected, and can make adjustments from their phone.

To use the autonomous tractor, farmers need to bring the machine to the field and configure it for autonomous operation. Using a mobile app, they can start the machine. They can also access live video, images, data and metrics to monitor the work, and adjust speed, depth and more.

John Deere already uses technology to help farmers with precision and decision making, including self-steering features and GPS and location sensing technology.

But fully autonomous tractors have been on the company’s radar for some time. It acquired an AI start-up in 2017 to help it incorporate machine vision tools into its machines, and last year it snapped up robotic tractor start-up Bear Flag Robotics in a $250m deal.

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Sarah Harford is sub-editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com