Now that the driverless car has gone mainstream at least in the conscious of many Americans, it’s time to think about the driverless tractor and other autonomous farm equipment.
John Deere, which provides a broad variety of products for working the land, is now working on applying software to its array of tractors and other offerings to help farmers do more with less effort.
With the world population growing and resources shrinking in some areas, there is a need to produce food faster and easier. John Deere is looking to new technology areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and open APIs to help farmers produce more and better crops.
Earlier this year, John Deere sponsored the 2016 agBOT Challenge in Rockville, Indiana, where about a dozen teams of students representing some of the top research universities from across North America competed in a challenge to create the next generation of innovation in the precision agriculture industry. Specifically, students worked to develop a fully-autonomous machine that could load seed, then plant and fertilize a two-acre parcel. The winning team received $50,000, with $100,000 in combined total prize winnings doled out to the top three projects.
Each team devised an unmanned, "robotic" planter, able to follow programmed coordinates through a field while planting seeds and sending real-time information back to the computer. The 2016 agBOT Challenge was a competition for the development of an unmanned crop seeder. The 2017 agBOT Challenge will consist of two competitions: a competition for development of an unmanned crop seeder and a competition for pest and weed identification and eradication. And the 2018 agBOT Challenge will be a competition for harvest method robotics.
Indeed, over the last 15 years, John Deere has worked to help farmers increase production sustainability by developing driverless tractors and sensors that interact with real-time data. At the agBOT event, John Deere also showed off several different precision technology innovations, including an autonomous lawn mower and various applications of the John Deere Operations Center, which acts as a central location to connect a farmer's machines, operators and fields.
Last week, John Deere opened its data platform to other software suppliers. The company announced that the John Deere Operations Center, which delivers value to farmers with tools and features that enable them to easily access farm information to better manage their operations, has a new page called More Tools. The "More Tools" page provides information and links to solutions from other companies that are using the John Deere open data platform. This enables farmers to access the tools they need from agricultural software providers and keep their data housed in a single location.
"This new page represents a significant step forward for our John Deere precision Ag data solutions," said Kevin Krieg, software segment manager at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, in a statement. "Farmers will now have the ability to not only use our premium Ag data management solution with the John Deere Operations Center, but they will be able to customize their own 'data toolbox.'"
Moreover, John Deere offers its JDLink Connect solution, which connects the company’s machines to the framer's Operations Center and handles data collection and transmission for the farmer. It also connects the machines to a John Deere dealer so they can know when to offer support to the farmer.
"The option to pick and choose the solutions that make sense for an operation with practically no extra effort needed to transfer data between them is key for simplicity and usability," said Krieg. "This setup keeps the farmers in control of their data when they collaborate with trusted partners to put that data to work enhancing their performance and profitability."
Lane Arthur, director of the Information Solutions Group at John Deere, said the company is working on making its machines smarter and more precise. In that regard, John Deere has embedded a number of IoT technologies into its machines. The company is able to provide "sub-inch" accuracy in harvesting based on the planters it provides. The 24-row planters have three sensors or controllers on each row.