John Deere’s Autonomous Tractor

Autonomous vehicles continue to be among the most controversial robots. On the one hand, they’re actually out and about, transporting packages and carrying pizzas. Not to mention the mainstream auto manufacturers, including Cadillac, that were showcasing the technology at CES.

On the other hand, a recent national survey found that a mere 15% of consumers actually trust driverless vehicles and consider them safe.

Could John Deere change that perception?

Self-driving tractors

John Deere, a highly trusted American company, might be just the right ambassador for autonomous vehicles. They have a new, self-driving tractor that will plow a field at the touch of a smartphone button. The farmer just needs to get the tractor to the field, and after that all steering can be done with an app.

If it encounters an obstacle, the tractor will stop and alert the farmer to the problem. Cameras, GPS, and AI combine to avoid other kinds of problems.

Farmers can watch the work remotely and use the app to adjust the plow depth and otherwise communicate with the tractor.

It’s expected to be available to the public later this year. John Deere plans to add versions of the autonomous tractor that can plant and fertilize fields soon, with harvesters further out in the future.

Agricultural automation

Since agriculture has been grappling with a serious labor shortage for years, plenty of agricultural tasks have already been automated. Farmers are less likely to resist automation than other industries.

Robots designed to cultivate, pick, and pack crops are already out in the fields, and robotic milking stations have become commonplace on dairy farms.

Even family farms have trouble finding workers who are willing to get up early and milk the cows.

Tractors also face fewer complications than vehicles that might get out on the road. No traffic, no pedestrians, and they can be programmed to recognize the edges of the field so they don’t go astray.

Agriculture may soon be as accustomed to automation as manufacturing.

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