John Deere’s self-driving tractor sparks a debate about artificial intelligence in agriculture


Deere Company In 1837, the first commercially successful steel plow helped the mechanization of agriculture. On Tuesday, the company introduced a machine that could prove equally transformative: a fully automatic tractor.

John Deere’s new 8R tractor uses six pairs of stereo cameras and advanced artificial intelligence Perceive its environment and navigate. When given a route and coordinates, it can find its way to the field by itself, and then cultivate the soil or sow without instructions, avoiding obstacles as it moves forward. Farmers can use smartphone apps to place new orders to the machines.

Some tractors already operate automatically, but only in limited circumstances—for example, following a route defined by GPS and unable to bypass obstacles. Others have limited autonomy and still need farmers to sit behind the steering wheel.

“This is a huge shift,” Deere Chief Technology Officer Jahmy Hindman said on the new machine revealed in 2022 Consumer Electronics Show In Las Vegas. “I think it’s as big as the transition from horse to tractor.”

John Deere’s 8R tractor uses cameras and artificial intelligence for navigation.

Courtesy of John Deere

Self-driving tractors can help farmers save money and automate threatened jobs Continuing agricultural labor shortageBut automating more agriculture and adding artificial intelligence may also spark debates about the replacement of workers and the ownership and use of the data they generate.

Deere did not disclose the price of the new tractor.Its most expensive current model can Up to 800,000 USDHindman said the company is exploring several possible models, including subscription plans.

For decades, with the latest developments, autonomous driving has gradually penetrated into tractors and other agricultural equipment Built on advancements in robotics and self-driving cars.

Fully autonomous 8R relies on Neural network algorithm Understand the information flowing into its camera. Hindman said Deere has been collecting and annotating the data needed to train these algorithms for years.

Construction companies are using similar artificial intelligence methods Self-driving carFor example, Tesla collects data through cars used to hone its cars. Autopilot automatic driving system. Although empty venues pose fewer challenges than busy urban intersections, Hindman acknowledges that, like self-driving cars, the system may have It is difficult to see the surrounding environment in extreme weather conditions Such as snow or rain.

Qin ZhangThe director of the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems at Washington State University once studied prototype automatic tractors with Deere’s funding. He said that the technical problems seem to have basically been solved. But he said that some farmers may find the system too expensive or difficult to program.

In the past decade, Deere has been incorporating more artificial intelligence and autonomy into its products. In August, the company Said that it has paid 250 million US dollars to acquire Bear Flag Robotics, A startup that transforms tractors to make them more autonomous. In 2017, it Acquired Blue River Technology for US$305 million, Which enables the robot to use high-precision herbicides to identify and eliminate unwanted plants.

The new 8R tractor may mark a bigger shift in Deere’s ambitions.It not only turns the company’s most iconic product into a powerful robot; It also provides a virtuous circle for training new artificial intelligence algorithms and developing new products.



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