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Autonomous tractors ready to change farming

Image of the sensor bay on top of John Deere’s autonomous tractor. Image credit: John Deere

CES 2022 is back to (quasi) normal and many companies are using this opportunity to present their latest innovation as well as to make promises on their commitment to release those innovations to the market.

In the coming days I will comment on a few of these announcements. Today is about future of farming and in particular about the announcement by John Deere that their autonomous tractor is ready and they promise its delivery later this year, in time for tilling fields preparing for the next crop.

The tractor showcased at CES 2022 is a Deere 8R equipped with advanced navigation and sensors (you can see them in the photo) that along with GPS can generate ambient awareness.

All the farmer has to do is to drive the tractor to the field (autonomous driving on public roads is not allowed) and once there use a touch screen to configure the activity. Then he can step out and go home. The activity progress can be followed, and if needed re-tuned, from the farmer smartphone through and app, like playing a videogame.

The cost has not been announced but what is clear is that Deere is looking at the automation of farming by providing an add-on that can be used on most of their tractors so that farmers can upgrade their existing fleet. Indeed, this approach seems to be in synch with the current shortage of manpower experienced in farming industry. Equipping tractors with autonomous farming capability means sharply decreasing the number of farmers required.

You should not under-estimate the sophistication of autonomous tractor by thinking that “autonomous drive in an open field is a piece of cake if compared with autonomous driving in a crowded city”. In a field the tractor has to take care not to step on saplings ruining the crop. Use of fertiliser has to be accurate to be useful, limiting pollution and decreasing cost. That means detecting weeds …

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.