John Deere reveals the 8R, a fully autonomous tractor that’s ready for large-scale production. The machine combines Deere’s 8R tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plow, GPS guidance system and new advanced technologies.
The autonomous tractor serves a specific purpose: feeding the world. Global population is expected to grow from about 8 billion to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, increasing global food demand by 50%. 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. All of these factors impact a farmer’s ability to farm during the most critical times of the year.
The autonomous tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras, which enables 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation of distance. Images captured by the cameras are passed through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds and determines if the machine continues to move or stops, depending on if an obstacle is detected. The autonomous tractor is also continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to, and is within less than an inch of accuracy.
“This precise location-sensing technology (already) enables farmers to place seeds, spread nutrients and harvest their crops without having to touch the steering wheel,” says Jahmy Hindman, Chief Technology Officer at John Deere. “Without this self-driving technology, farming is incredibly exhausting mentally and physically. GPS technology allows farmers to spend their time in the cab of a tractor looking at the real-time data they are collecting during the job they are doing and making adjustments.”
To use the autonomous tractor, farmers only need to transport the machine to a field and configure it for autonomous operation. Using John Deere Operations Center Mobile, they can swipe from left to right to start the machine. While the machine is working the farmer can leave the field to focus on other tasks, while monitoring the machine’s status from their mobile device.
John Deere Operations Center Mobile provides access to live video, images, data and metrics, and allows a farmer to adjust speed, depth and more. In the event of any job quality anomalies or machine health issues, farmers will be notified remotely and can make adjustments to optimize the performance of the machine.
Currently, the technology for the 8R 410 is available only in combination with a special John Deere chisel plow. A limited number of tractors will be delivered to North American customers this year. In the coming years, John Deere will work on the availability of the technology for further machines and attachments.
The launch of the brand in Europe is currently not planned, as safety regulations currently do not allow the use of autonomous vehicles.
There is great interest in the technology especially in regions with large-scale agriculture, such as North and South America, Australia and the CIS countries. The labour shortage in agriculture is another driver for the development of autonomous agricultural machinery. Especially with short operating windows, the tractors can run around the clock with short refueling stops, thus significantly relieving farmers.