The global machinery sector has kicked off 2022 with the bang thanks to the unveiling of John Deere's first autonomous tractor for broadacre systems.
The machine combines John Deere's 8R tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plough, and GPS guidance system and will be available for a limited number of United States customers to purchase this year.
It will be gradually rolled out to other countries, including Australia, in the next few years.
The autonomous tractor was showcased at the CES 2022 in Las Vegas at the beginning of January.
Minnesota farmer Doug Nimz was one of the first people in the world to try out the autonomous tractor when John Deere brought the machine to his farm for testing four years ago.
Mr Nimz is a fourth generation farmer and grows corn and soy beans on his 813 hectare property at Blue Earth.
"I really never thought I would see an autonomous tractor in my farming career," he said.
"For me it was really exciting the first time I got to take the autonomous tractor to the field, swipe my phone, watch the tractor - with no one in the cab - start doing tillage, come to the end of the field, turn on the end, and do the tillage just as well as I can do myself."
The autonomous tractor continuously checks its position relative to a virtual geofence. It operates within less than 2.5cm of accuracy.
Six pairs of stereo cameras ensure the machine has 360-degree obstacle detection and can calculate distance by passing the images captured by the cameras through a neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds. This determines whether the machine will continue to move or stop, based on if an obstacle is detected.
Farmers can access live video, images and data via the John Deere Operations Center and are able to adjust speed, depth and more from the mobile app.
Should an issue arise, farmers can be notified remotely and make adjustments to optimise the performance of the machine on their smartphone.
John Deere Australia/New Zealand managing director Luke Chandler said the tractor was the culmination of industry-leading technology and a dedicated vision to provide farmers with tools to produce safe and nutritious food and fibre for a growing global population.
"With the world population forecast to increase to nearly 10 billion people by 2050 global food demand is predicted to grow by 50 per cent, meaning farmers will need to be as efficient and sustainable as possible in every phase of production," Mr Chandler said.
"This autonomous tractor is an extremely exciting innovation that will help to ensure Australian farmers have the opportunity to adopt era-defining agtech to address these challenges and to support high-performing and sustainable farm businesses."
John Deere Australia/New Zealand production systems manager Ben Kelly said Australian farmers have always led the adoption of agtech across the globe.
Mr Kelly said given the limited availability of skilled labour, access to autonomous machinery for large-scale production had never been so important.
"With this new tractor, it is as simple as transporting the machine to a field and configuring it for autonomous operation," he said.
"Then, using John Deere Operations Center, farmers can swipe from left to right to start the machine and can leave the field to focus on other tasks, while monitoring its status from their mobile device."
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