At the CES conference held in Las Vegas this week, John Deere officially released its first commercial fully automated driverless tractor.
Agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere will begin selling an unmanned version of the 8R row crop tractor in the second half of this year. According to John Deere Chief Technology Officer Jahmy Hindman, the company has not yet decided whether to sell directly, lease, or sell as a service package.
John Deere has introduced robotics to traditional machinery to increase agricultural productivity in response to growing food demand and declining agricultural human resources.
The fully automatic driverless version of the 8R row crop tractor is equipped with GPS navigation and has 6 pairs of stereo cameras, which can detect obstacles in the farmland at 360 degrees. By using artificial intelligence to process the image, the 8R tractor can decide whether it should continue to move or stop when it finds a potential obstacle. It can also work in a designated area set by farmers and configure it using the John Deere Operations Center mobile application.
In August last year, John Deere agreed to acquire Bear Flag Robotics, a US tractor automation startup, for US$250 million. Bear Flag Robotics focuses on "upgrading" existing agricultural vehicles and machinery to enable them to achieve autonomous driving functions. It is reported that the proprietary technology of Bear Flag Robotics has not been applied to the new 8R unmanned tractor.
According to John Deere, its 8R tractors have been used by some customers for "several seasons." After all, like any kind of autonomous machinery, an autonomous tractor is not something that has been introduced to the world without extensive testing. Since the fall of 2019, prototype tractors have been piloted in the field. However, by the fall of 2022, the company will finally open up sales of the system.
Although the company recently acquired Bear Flag Robotics, it said that none of the startup's autonomous technology has entered the system, which has been working for several years. In the future, products driven by Bear Flag will provide farmers with opportunities to retrofit their existing tractors with autonomous driving technology, but for now, John Deere focuses on 8R, a stand-alone solution.
The system uses 12 stereo cameras, powered by two NVIDIA Jetson modules, to provide full field of view around it. Its GPS navigation system, coupled with geo-fencing, allows the system to maintain the correct direction during initial tasks, such as farming. The system is remotely controlled by the John Deere mobile operation center, which provides access to images, real-time video and work data.
The system will initially be selectively provided through distributors in the Midwestern United States, and John Deere will assist farmers in its implementation. 8R will be exhibited at 2022 CES in Las Vegas this week.