Several technologies has helped John Deere’s objective to develop a fully autonomous tractor and tillage system – a solution first teased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early 2022. Retrofit autonomy kits mounted on Deere’s 8R tractor and 2430 chisel plow have now been in customer field tests since last fall.
Since its Precision Ag Group was started in 1993, John Deere has steadily increased the level of automation in its products, edging further and further forward along the path to full autonomy. It’s now closer than ever to that goal, thanks to technologies being applied across multiple solutions within its Precision Ag portfolio.
“As we talk about increasing levels of automation leading to ultimate autonomy, we’ve been preparing for the autonomous tractor solution… since we started with AutoTrac back in 2002,” Matt Olson, Precision Ag product marketing manager, John Deere, said of the company’s field guidance system. “We started in 2002 making customers more aware of the value of precision and how overlap control can really help not only increase the productivity per day, but also decrease the costs… relative to the inputs of their operation. Olson is interviewed in Diesel Progress, the interview gives a good outlook on the plans of John Deere.
John Deere has seven new automation products currently in development, including ExactShot for precise fertilizer placement during planting; Furrow Vision for direct view of seeds as they are planted in furrows; and, on the construction side, Smart Detect for human and object detection behind wheel loaders.
“One of the cool things is that we use a lot of the same techniques across all the products,” Jorge Heraud, vice president of automation & autonomy, John Deere, said. “We’ve developed expertise and commonality in cameras, processing units and, in particular, our products use computer vision tied with machine learning.”
Automation starts with rugged John Deere-designed, high-resolution cameras that serve as the primary sensors on the equipment. Working individually or in pairs depending on the application, their high dynamic range functionality enables them to capture multiple images in rapid succession using different exposures.
What John Deere is striving toward is “sense and act autonomy,” said Olson. “This is where we really get into machine learning, artificial intelligence, fully autonomous machines. It’s all about a proliferation of sensors, cameras and controllers that are giving data to these systems and a decision is going to be made.”
Sense and act is already at work in the company’s automation solutions. For example, when Combine Advisor senses the loss of grain, it makes an adjustment to ensure the grain is retained. “When we look at it from an autonomous vehicle perspective, the machine is going through the field, senses an object [and is going to] steer around it or make some kind of correction,” said Olson.