Updated: Feb 24
John Deere unveiled its first fully autonomous tractor in early January. While self-driving tractors have been running on farms for years the new 8R tractor takes automation a step further by allowing farmers to leave the cab and control the machine remotely. The continued rise in the world’s population means that food production needs to increase rapidly at the same time as the numbers of people entering farming is dropping. The average age of a farmer in the US is now over 55 and the industry is having difficulty finding new, young, skilled workers. John Deere believes that automation is the answer. The tractor uses machine learning to till the soil and can run almost 24 hours a day, only needing to stop every 8 to 10 hours for refueling. Farmers can track its progress and monitor any issues through an application, but do not need to be in the cab or even in the field while it is operational. The new 8R is equipped with six pairs of stereo cameras that give it 360-degree obstacle detection. The company says the tractor uses a deep neural network, which has been trained on more than 50 million images from farms collected over the last three years to guide the machine, but humans are on standby to help make decisions. The 8R stops if it encounters something in the field that it does not know how to navigate and sends images to John Deere’s “tele-operators” who manually check the situation and alert the farmer, if needed. They are adding this increased autonomy, so that the farmers are no longer tied to the machines all day but can instead focus their attention on the jobs that require more expertise from them. However, tractors are expensive the 8R even before the autmomous features are added costs $500,000. With this in mind John Deere intend to introduce the technolgy slowly and plan to just rent out the tractors to 10-50 farmers initially starting from 3Q 2022 to see how it fares and to fine tune it even further. Also the company says that the technology can be retrofitted to existing models lines released in the last three years which may speed up adoption.