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As Google cars roll out, Deere reminds us of its thousands of self-driving tractors

Google's self driving car. Source: Google
Google’s self driving car. Source: Google

Google is putting 25 new self-driving cars onto the streets of Mountain View, California, but agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere reminds us that it already has tens of thousands of self-driving tractors in service around the world.

john deere 2John Deere has been selling self-driving kits for its tractors for over 15 years. Its latest version, called AutoTrac, allows the self-driving tractor to follow pre-programmed routes. True, the technology in AutoTrac is less complex than the Google system, but it does the job as advertised and has been doing it successfully for years. When paired with a GPS RTK receiver and display, the AutoTrac kit can automatically steer the tractor. The kit is tied directly into the steering system on the tractor and provides up to 2″ accuracy.

Over 60% of new Deere tractors are outfitted with the AutoTrac software and kit (or other self-guidance technology) and they can be found operating in more than 100 countries around the world.  Rather than Google, “John Deere is the largest operator of autonomous vehicles,” said Catherine Sandoval, of California’s Public Utility Commission (PUC).

John Deere isn’t the only farm equipment manufacturer providing self-driving kits. There are many others including AGCO (Fendt), CNH Industrial (Case New Holland) and Kairos Autonomi, to name just a few.

john deere 1Deere has also been selling self-driving, autonomous, cab-less, concept tractors (such as the one shown on the left) but, thus far, they haven’t replaced the kits. Farmers want the air-conditioned, cushioned cabin in their tractors to house all the monitors, computer and automation technologies for the implements the tractor is towing. They want to remain in charge, and the cab has become the hub of computerized farm automation.

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Frank Tobe
guest author
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.

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