At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, John Deere put on an impressive hybrid press conference to announce its fully autonomous tractor. This isn’t some concept machine or a test vehicle. We’ve seen plenty of those over the years from OEMs; this is one 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 available to farmers later this year.
Presenters focused on the fact that farming is exhausting mentally and physically — and this advance will allow farmers to focus on other things while allowing for better outputs from the farm. Plus, there’s a gap between the labor that is needed on the farm and the labor that is available. What’s more, farmers need lots of labor for short periods of time … autonomy will help, because a tractor can be out 24 hours a day and run constantly when soil conditions are just right. For example, with seeding, if the optimal planting window is missed, the crop output can go down by as much as 1% with each passing day.
Overall, three main benefits were discussed. First, there’s timeliness. Autonomous vehicles don’t call in sick or get tired and can run 24 hours per day. Second, is efficiency. This technology allows farmers to be more efficient because they’re not in the cab all day. They can focus on the whole operation. And third, is about quality of life. The company says it will be improved, as being in a cab up to 18 hours a day is physically and mentally exhausting.
What’s clear is that this technology is making great strides and will be part of all our worlds in the coming years. Fluid power will continue to be used for key actuation operations on these types of vehicles — but now’s the time to start asking ourselves how our technology will have to adapt. The greater availability of inexpensive sensors means that components and systems can be connected to the IoT, and functional improvements like predictive maintenance will become expected and not extras. Fluid power can still be a mainstay here, but it’s clear that we must keep innovating, every bit as fast as the other parts of the vehicles our systems are on.