John Deere’s automatic tractor brings us one step closer to homegrown farms

The most exciting gadget this year is not TV showing NFT or Foldable tablet Or anything related to metaverse. This is an automatic tractor.

More specifically, it is Self-driving John Deere 8R tractor It can plow, avoid obstacles and grow crops with minimal human intervention. It looks a lot like any other John Deere tractor — it’s green and yellow — but there are six pairs of stereo cameras that use artificial intelligence to scan the surrounding environment and operate accordingly. Farmers also don’t need to operate it anywhere near the machine, because there is a smartphone app that can control everything. This tractor will go on sale later this year, just in time for an additional special robot harvesting season.

“In my opinion, this is a big deal,” Santosh Pitla, associate professor of advanced mechanical systems at the University of Nebraska, told Recode. John Deere’s equipment accounts for more than half of all agricultural machinery sold in the United States, and even the simple fact of putting automatic tractors on the market will change the way agriculture works. “This is big news,” Pietra said, “and it’s good news.”

This is obviously a big event for John Deere, but it also represents a big step forward for the entire precision agriculture movement.In short, precision agriculture Is a concept It uses computers, data collection, and satellite imagery to develop strategies to maximize farm output.Autonomous agricultural equipment such as soil sensors, dedicated drones and self-driving tractors are the key to our ability to produce more crops in the future With less effort and less environmental impact. But who will be in charge of that future and who will benefit from it remains to be determined.

There is reason to believe that farmers with thousands of acres will buy John Deere’s new self-driving tractor first. Models range from 230 to 410 horsepower, John Deere 8R tractor It is a large machine designed for large farms.Although the company has not disclosed the price of its new automatic tractor, the existing non-automatic tractor models in the 8R series May cost more than $600,000John Deere said the automation system will be sold as a kit that can be installed on other tractor models. The company also said it is considering offering a subscription plan, but did not specify how much it will cost.

But even if a farmer directly purchases a tractor, it is not clear who actually owns the equipment or the valuable agricultural data collected. The latest John Deere tractors are equipped with sensors and are connected to the Internet.Almost anything the machine can do Be recorded and sent to the cloud From the airborne cellular transmitter, John Deere has the ability Shut down many tractors remotely If it determines that someone has Modified their equipment Or missed the lease payment.Many farmers say they Even the tractor can’t be repaired by itself, Lest they trigger a switch that completely disables the machine. This means they are forced to pay for repairs to John Deere or its authorized repair shop. At the same time, John Deere’s privacy and data policy states that it can share data about farmers’ activities collected by its software with “external parties” under certain circumstances.

“I am totally for innovation, and I think John Deere is a first-rate company,” said Kevin Kenny, an agricultural engineer and maintenance rights advocate. Tell connection After John Deere announced its automatic tractor. “But they are trying to become the Facebook of agriculture.”

John Deere said it will sell autonomous driving kits separately so that older models can be retrofitted to autonomous driving.
John Deere

John Deere is not the only company dedicated to research on autonomous agricultural equipment, and it is not even clear whether large autonomous tractors are the best use of the technology.Cases are Auto tractor concept There isn’t even a human driver’s cab. AGCO, which owns farm equipment brands such as Fendt and Massey Ferguson, is testing smaller autonomous machines, including Seeding robot That is the size of the washing machine.The popular drone manufacturer DJI now has a complete department Committed to flying agricultural robots This can help from crop monitoring to targeted pesticide spraying.

Many researchers believe that groups of small machines working together are more promising for a wider range of farmers.Nebraska professor Pitla is studying technology that can replace a single 500-horsepower tractor Equipped with 10 50-horsepower tractorsNot only can groups better handle different terrains and smaller farms, their land may not be as uniform as large farms, and if one tractor fails, the rest can continue to work.

“I have seen farmers planting for 18 hours because the weather is good and the soil conditions are good,” said Pietra. “This is a very timely operation. So to some extent, if you have a group of these machines, you are spreading the risk.”

When you consider the fact that agriculture is facing a continuing labor shortage, Some people say it’s getting worse, The concept of autonomous agricultural equipment is more attractive. This fact may alleviate concerns about automation taking jobs away from humans, but it may take years for us to understand the destructive effects of the widespread adoption of agricultural automation on the labor market.

Agricultural drones spray crops.

DJI AGRAS T30 can use GPS coordinates to spray specific crops and use radar to avoid obstacles along the way.

Farmers and technicians hope that autonomous tractors and other autonomous agricultural equipment will usher in an era of higher yields.The driving principle behind precision agriculture is that by better understanding the soil and solving crop problems, we Can squeeze more productivity Get out of the limited number of farmland in the world without negatively impacting the environment. This has led to more and more debates about whether industrialized agriculture recklessly drives and exploits land with profit, or whether it is more efficient to merge farms. With the proper introduction of autonomous agricultural technology, we can have it at the same time.

Carnegie Mellon University Agricultural Robotics Project Scientist Abhisesh Silwal said: “Similar to the self-driving car industry, the complete automation of agricultural vehicles and equipment can also be regarded as an important goal of the agricultural industry, if not the ultimate goal.” University Robotics graduate School. He added that in the long run, automate delicate, time-sensitive tasks such as pruning and harvesting, which usually require skilled workers.

Currently, although researchers have made drones and swarm robots smarter, we already have John Deere and its self-driving tractor. Even if not every farmer is suitable or affordable, new self-driving machines are pushing autonomous agriculture further into the mainstream. Unlike TVs that can display NFTs, this technology can actually help feed the world.

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