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John Deere Transforming from a Machinery Company to a Smart Technology Company

Founded more than 180 years, John Deere’s origins began with the invention of the steel plow. As it looks to the future of agriculture and how it can best support farmers, technology is at the center of its strategy.

“We are transforming from a machinery company into a smart technology company,” says Martin Kremmer, director ETIC, John Deere European Technology Center.

With the unveiling of its Future Technology Zone at the 2019 Agritechnica, John Deere showcased its product development and research projects across nine innovations in three key areas – electrification, autonomy through automation, and artificial intelligence – that will shape the farm of the future and help farmers continue to grow.

1. Electrification

“Electrification is not just about replacing the fuel tank; it’s about replacing the complete engine,” Kremmer says.

• Zero Emissions Compact Utility Tractor. Based on its 1 Series compact utility tractor, John Deere’s electric compact utility tractor offers zero emissions. This machine has a high PTO power, which allows about 2½ acres to be mowed on one battery charge (about 4½ hours). The machine also features very low maintenance costs.

• eAutoPowr Transmission. The eAutoPowr continuously variable transmission with an electro-mechanical power split, which is a first in the industry, is more efficient and wear-free than a conventional CVT.

“eAutoPowr increases productivity by up to 45%,” Kremmer says.

John Deere and Joskin have collaborated on a slurry tanker that features two electric drive axles to take advantage of the up to 100 kW of electrical power that is available for external consumption. Because of this eight-wheel drive system, tractive power is transmitted more efficiently. In addition, it can reduce slurry incorporation costs by up to 25%.

2. Autonomy Through Automation

“Full autonomy is not about replacing the operator; it is about giving the operator a new role as a supervisor, because that person is receiving decision support from the system in real time,” Kremmer says.

• Autonomous Electric Tractor. A compact electric drive unit with an integrated attachment, the autonomous tractor concept has a total output of 500 kW. It can be equipped with either wheels or tracks. Depending on the application, flexible ballasting from 5 to 15 tons is possible to help reduce soil compaction. 

JD autonomous electric concept

• Semi-Autonomous Tactor. This tractor drives semi-autonomously and is equipped with an integrated crop sprayer. Using a built-in camera, it is possible to work in row crops, for example, by applying plant protection products to fruit tree plantations. Filling the sprayer tank takes place fully automatically at a filling station, so the user is not exposed to pesticides. This is designed to reduce costs and increase productivity by over 30%.

• Autonomous Drone Sprayer. Equipped with a weed scanner and a crop sprayer, this drone scans weeds and then precisely applies pesticides. The 10.6-litre tank is automatically filled at a field boundary station, and it is also where the battery is automatically charged. The drone can fly for 30 minutes on a fully charged battery. 

drone tower

• Autonomous Sprayer. The autonomous sprayer has a 560-liter spray tank. The high ground clearance makes it extremely versatile for applying nutrients throughout the entire growing season. The tracks minimize ground pressure, while extending the operating window.

auto sprayer

3. Artificial Intelligence

• See & Spray Technology. With the acquisition of Blue River Technology, John Deere is ushering in the next generation of weed control that will greatly reduce the use of pesticides.

Based on the 20 images captured every second by the high-resolution camera, the system’s artificial intelligence can differentiate between a weed and the crop throughout the growth stages of the crop.

“Application decisions can now be made on every nozzle to supply pesticide down to the individual plant,” Kremmer says.

• Command Cab. John Deere is reinventing the cab with its touch screen display, networking of all machine components, and joystick. By integrating real-time weather data, individual presettings, and job-management procedures, the cab becomes the command center for ag operations.

command cab

• Large Spraying Drone. Developed jointly by John Deere and Volocopter, the VoloDrone large spraying drone has a diameter of 9.2 meters and features 18 rotors. Powered by a fully electric drive with replaceable lithium-ion batteries, one battery charge fuels a flight time of up to 30 minutes. In addition, VoloDrone has the ability to operate remotely and automatically on a preprogrammed route. Because the drone’s frame is equipped with a flexible standardized payload attachment system, different devices can be mounted on the frame, depending on the application.

VoloDrone

For example, when using the drone for crop protection, it is equipped with two liquid tanks, a pump, and a spray bar. Its low flying height allows it to cover up to 6 hectares (about 14 acres) per hour.

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