In the 2021 British television documentary Clarkson’s Farm, viewers follow the foibles of journalist and TV host Jeremy Clarkson. It was just before the the onset of the COVID pandemic that Clarkson decided to take a break from the hit show Top Gear and settle into a life of farming his 1000 acre hobby farm in Oxfordshire, England. During the series we get to witness just how difficult modern farming can be for a single owner/operator. Clarkson had significant struggles learning all of the operations of tilling, planting, spraying, and harvesting throughout a growing season.
If Clarkson had been able to use the new John Deere 8R autonomous tractor, rather than the Lamborghini R8 tractor that he purchases for the farm, he might have had an easier go at his first season of farming.
John Deere releases autonomous tractor
At CES 2022, John Deere revealed a fully autonomous tractor that’s ready for large-scale production. The machine combines Deere’s 8R Tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plow, GPS guidance system, and new advanced technologies. The autonomous tractor will be generally available to farmers later in 2022.
The new 8R is fully autonomous and can be operated and monitored from a smartphone. The autonomous tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras, which enable 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation of distance. Images captured by the cameras are passed through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds and determines if the machine continues to move or stops, depending on if an obstacle is detected. The autonomous tractor is also continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to, and is accurate to within less than 1 inch.
On Clarkson’s Farm, we see just how hard it can be to plant straight rows, along with the pride that farmers take in showing their skill behind the wheel. The John Deere 8R solves that issue with its high accuracy positioning and obstacle avoidance. With the 8R, Clarkson would have impressed all of the neighboring farmers with his dead-on straight rows. The autonomous 8R tractor can prep 325 acres in 24 hours.
To use the autonomous 8R tractor, farmers only need to transport the machine to a field and configure it for autonomous operation. Using John Deere Operations Center Mobile, they can swipe from left to right to start the machine. While the machine is working, the farmer can leave the field to focus on other tasks while monitoring the machine’s status from their mobile device. The tractors use a 4G/5G cellular connection to remotely monitor the tractor operations.
Another new feature announced at CES 2022 is the John Deere “See and Spray,” an autonomous spraying implement that uses machine vision and AI to identify crop plants and weeds. The See and Spray implement then dispenses weed killer only to the individual weed plants in the field. This helps to reduce the overall amount of noxious weed killer used during the season, saving money for the farmer, but also reducing overspray and crop damage.
In one hilarious episode of Clarkson’s Farm, we watch as Jeremy forgets where he’s sprayed within a field and ends up with large swaths of weeds growing between crop rows. Clarkson would definitely benefit from the new See and Spray technology from John Deere.
“The global population is expected to grow from about 8 billion to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, increasing global food demand by 50%,” said Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer at John Deere. “Farmers must also work through the variables like changing weather conditions, variations in soil quality, and managing weeds and pests – all of which impact the ability to farm during critical times of the year.”
At its heart, the John Deere 8R tractor leverages the autonomous guidance technology that John Deere acquired from Blue River Technology. This has been four-plus years in development and field testing, leading to general availability now. The autonomous package is a dealer installed option and can be retrofitted on any 8R tractor from model year 2020 or later.
John Deere also acquired Silicon Valley-based Bear Flag robotics in 2021, and now has more than 200 employees based in northern California. This investment is now evident with the general availability of the two new technologies launched at CES 2022.
According to Jorge Heraud, VP, Automation & Autonomy, John Deere and ex-CEO of Blue River Technology, John Deere will continue to work on automating the other operations on the farm, including planting and harvesting. In addition, the company continues to roll out ADAS like features for existing operation and equipment that help farmers better perform operations while they are in the cab. This helps to improve precision and reduce fatigue, even for semi-automated operations.
John Deere also continues to help farmers gather data about their daily operations and then to support decision making about how to best run their operations.