John Deere self-driving tractors

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Interesting article on automation in farming. Big area of interest across the world as labour, supply chain is getting disrupted due to various reasons. Also there is a need to improve the overall farm output using a combination of humans and machines.  The area of automated tractors has a lot in common with automated driving systems, all using a combination of computer vision, gps and deep learning techniques with mobile technology to provide remote access.

John Deere breaks new ground with self-driving tractors you can control from a phone

Fully autonomous tractors promise to change how food is grown in America.

https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/john-deere-breaks-new-ground-with-self-driving-tractors-you-can-control-from-a-phone/Links to an external site.

The emergence of fully autonomous farming equipment offers a twist to the century-old contest between man and machine. The rise of automation in everything from car factories to Amazon Go convenience stores has sparked fears that robots will eventually wipe out millions of jobs. But in farm country, where workers are in short supply and younger people are moving to cities, autonomy may be the only way to ensure enough food is grown to feed the world. 

Not reinventing the wheel

John Deere’s road to autonomy began decades ago. In the mid-1990s, it introduced satellite GPSLinks to an external site. in tractors to help farmers with precision agriculture, which is the ability to glean insight about what’s going on in the soil in order to become more efficient with gas, fertilizer and seeds. A decade later, Deere’s StarFire GPS receivers became accurate enough to enable tractors to steer themselves.

The tech inside

Most autonomous cars being tested use a depth sensor called lidarLinks to an external site., while Tesla employs an array of cameras, sensors and radar. John Deere, however, believes that stereo cameras are the way to get self-driving technology into as many fields as possible. Its autonomous machine has 12 such cameras.

A labor shortage

The biggest benefit of autonomous tractors is letting farmers perform two jobs at once. The industry has a labor shortage that makes it difficult for growers to get everything done on their farms in a short window. If a farmer doesn’t get planting done in time, he won’t have a crop to harvest in the fall. If he doesn’t get the crops picked before a freeze and snow, the harvest will be lost.

Swipe to drive

A key part of the autonomy process is the smartphone. John Deere designed the system to be controlled by iPhones and Android phones through its existing Operation Center app. For farmers with the new self-driving systems, an additional tab will show up that contains the autonomy features. 

Avoiding obstacles

Early on, John Deere’s autonomous technology had troubles with shadows. And leaves. And patches of dirt that were different colors than the others. All of them triggered the tractor to stop and send an alert about obstacles. But the technology is now at the point where the false error rate is low, Hindman said.

To help avoid false alerts of obstructions, John Deere’s autonomous 8R runs with the lights on all the time — an unusual sight in farm country.