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.
John Deere Adds AI, IoT to Farm Equipment
“A 24 row planter would have 72 basically ‘IoT’ devices on that row, and then the planter itself has another five in the centralized hub,” Arthur said in a statement. “So that planter has 77 IoT devices that are capturing data, and the data they’re capturing is how the machine interacts with the soil, as well as where the seeds are being placed, so we can see what’s called ‘singulation’ of the seed. All of this is happening at six to 10 miles an hour on a tractor.”
However, despite the advances in agriculture technology, Arthur said he is more intrigued by what’s going on in the automotive industry.
“The autonomous automobile area is one of great interest to me,” he said. “Because we solved a certain problem around how to use satellites and drive around machines, and the automotive industry is solving a similar problem in a very different way, using a variety of sensors and fusing those sensors together – using a lot more AI.”
Meanwhile, John Deere is one of four investors supporting a new startup business accelerator in central Iowa that will further establish the region as a destination for agriculture technology. The Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Cultivation Corridor announced the formation of an Ag Tech Accelerator (The Accelerator) with the support of investors DuPont Pioneer, Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company, John Deere and Peoples Company. Each investor company committed $100,000 to support the Accelerator for the first year.
“John Deere has long been dedicated to those who are linked to the land, and is always ready to embrace change that leads to new opportunities,” said Cory Reed, senior vice president of John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, in a statement. “Being able to support the continuing progress in the field of precision ag is important both here in Iowa, as well as around the world.”
Mike Colwell, executive director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, told eWEEK: “We expect Artificial Intelligence to have a profound impact on the ag business and to be a part of startups we consider for the Ag Tech Accelerator.”
He noted that the Ag Tech Accelerator will further expand Greater Des Moines’ technology strengths. “Greater Des Moines is already known as a global leader in technology in several areas including agricultural technology, fintech, insurtech, autonomous vehicles and more,” Colwell said.
Moreover, Colwell noted that Greater Des Moines has been named the number four “Tech City to Start a Career” by Computer Training Schools, the number two top Under the Radar Tech Hub by Square Foot, the number eight top city for tech workers by Smart Asset and one of the “5 Tech Hubs With Low Cost of Living “by US News and World Report.
Microsoft also recently announced that it will build its third data center in West Des Moines, which will be the company’s largest data center deployment in the country. Facebook is building a third data center building in Altoona, Iowa.
And the Des Moines-based Global Insurance Accelerator has graduated two classes of six startups that are working closely with established companies in the insurance and financial services industry to spur innovation.
In addition, John Deere APIs enable customers to access a wide range of business and machine data from the Operations Center such as agronomic data such as production data summaries and client, farm, field, and boundary details through the MyJohnDeere API.
Developers also can integrate telematics machine data into their applications through the Machine Monitoring resources in the MyJohnDeere API. And the John Deere Field Connect API enables developers to build apps that provide machine locations, use, alerts, fuel level, and other data points such as soil moisture and weather.