Coming Soon To A Field Near You: An Autonomous Tractor

The John Deere autonomous tractor is a self-driving diesel tractor that can work 324 acres of soil in a 24-hour period, and you never even have to set foot in the cab.

by Shelly Wutke
PHOTO: images courtesy of John Deere

In the 1960s, my grandfather grew wheat on 160 acres of prairie land. During harvest, the only glimpse we’d have of him is the taillights of his tractor as he went back to the fields. Today I own my own farm; my grandpa has been gone for 20 years. But he’s the first person I thought of when I saw the John Deere autonomous tractor for the first time at CES 2022 (Consumer Electronic Show). 

My grandfather is the type of farmer John Deere designed the autonomous 8R tractor for. But the main purpose of this high-tech tractor is to help feed the planet’s population. John

Deere released a fact sheet showing the world’s population is expected to increase to 10 billion people by 2050. That increase is going to mean global food demand will increase by 50 percent. That’s a tall order for farmers already overwhelmed, getting older and lacking help.  

What is an autonomous tractor?

John Deere has considered over a century of knowledge in designing a fully self-driving tractor. While it has the same look and feel of any John Deere tractor and it runs on diesel, this tractor is also a robot. It has can cruise fields of 100 acres to 10,000 acres or more. And it can run completely on its own.

All the farmer has to do is set the tractor in autonomous mode. They can monitor the status of their tractor from the John Deere Operations Center Mobile app.

Read more: Plug in then plow with an electric tractor!

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How does the John Deere autonomous 8R tractor work?

John Deere has sold self-guided tractors for quite a while. They allow the farmer to their hands off the wheel, while still spending time in the cab. But with the John Deere autonomous tractor, you don’t have to be in the cab at all.

autonomous tractor self-driving

You could be half way across your property doing some other task or spending time with your family. Your tractor, in turn, will be in the field doing its job. 

The John Deere 8R has six pairs of stereo cameras on board. Those cameras are the tractor’s eyes and give it 360 degrees of obstacle detection, as well as the ability to calculate distance and terrain. It has its own ‘brain’ with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

And before you bring it home it has already been taught to recognize hundreds of thousands of images in real time.

To prepare for every type of scenario, John Deere collected approximately 50 million images over three years of in-field testing. This tractor is ready for anything. 

You’ll set a geofence of your property for the tractor so it knows exactly where to go. When your tractor is running, you’ll receive a steady stream of data to the app. You can watch a live video of the section of land your tractor is working on, see live images, or adjust the speed and depth your tractor is plowing. 

autonomous tractor self-driving

This tractor will be incredibly efficient, and John Deere says it can prepare 324 acres of soil in a 24-hour period. Using John Deere’s proprietary GPS system, a farmer can expect an accuracy rate within 2 1/2 centimeter or less than one inch. 

Read more: Check out this video to learn about common tractor implements.

A tractor that gives time back to the farmer

The John Deere autonomous tractor is going to revolutionize farming by giving the farmer the one thing they need more but can never get—time. My grandpa would spend 18 hours a day in the cab of his tractor during harvest. I can’t imagine how this type of technology would have helped him. 

With a farm of any size, you get pulled in a million different directions. I can’t wait for the trickle down this type of technology will mean to every farmer.

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