As many advancements as we’ve had in modern technology, farming has always been the one thing that has stayed constant when it comes to honest work.
However, that could be changing soon, as companies such as John Deere appear to be making an attempt to stay ahead of the times.
According to Wired, John Deere’s new 8R tractor is completely self-driven, as it uses six pairs of stereo cameras and advanced artificial intelligence so it can recognize its environment and know where to go.
It can field on its own and plow or sow weeds once given a route a coordinates, and can be given new orders through a smartphone app.
Although there are other self-driving tractors out there, this is the first one that can stay on a route for a significant amount of time, and the first to be able to navigate around obstacles.
John Deere’s chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman says:
“It’s a monumental shift. I think it’s every bit as big as the transition from horse to tractor.”
The new creation could definitely help farmers save time and money, as they can go and achieve other tasks as the farming industry continues to suffer from labor shortages.
On the other hand, this could also worsen the labor shortage, as it may take away jobs from hard working individuals who may really need the money.
There’s still no word on how much the new Deere will cost, as their most expensive model sits at over $800,000.
There is still some concern on the technical issues a tractor like this may have, such as difficulty seeing its surroundings, and taking on extreme weather like snow or rain.
Qin Zhang, director of the Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems at Washington State University, is one of the originals who worked on the prototype of the tractor, and claims that nearly all of the technical issues have been resolved.
This isn’t the first attempt by John Deere to become one of the most innovative in the farming industry, as they paid $250 million for Bear Flag Robotics to aid in making the self-driving tractors in August of last year.
In 2017, it paid $305 million for Blue River Technology, in an effort to create robots that eliminate unwanted plants.
Needless to say, there are several people out there who believe John Deere is “trying too hard.”
For example, Kevin Kenney, an Agricultural Engineer, says:
“I’m all for innovation, and I think John Deere is a helluva company, but they’re trying to be the Facebook of farming.”
He believes that innovation like this can make it more difficult for farmers to be able to repair their own equipment, while also giving them less control over their operations. Deere’s AI could also end up collecting data from farmers and then charging them more to access it.
He thinks that if this type of trend continues, Deere may not even need farmers, and could later result in “robotic farms” with no help from humans.
Hindman disagrees, as he believes farmers will reap the benefits from the innovative tractor monetarily, and will help get more work done in a time where farm labor is becoming more and more scarce.
However, Hindman agrees that the farmer is not inextricably tied to his equipment.
“We’ve now figured out how to decouple the labor from the machine.”