JD autonomous tractors around the corner

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ANKENY, IOWA — John Deere employees have a goal of being innovators to match how the founder of the company invented the self-scouring plow 175 years ago using the metal of a round saw blade. Autonomous tractor operation is a prime example of innovation in the pipeline at John Deere.

Aaron Senneff, development manager at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, leads global development teams in design and solutions development from Kaiserslautern, Germany. During a media conference at the John Deere research farm near Ankeny, Iowa, last week, he explained “agile development” as the method for innovation discovery being used by John Deere.

Small teams of engineers and marketers are told to intensely collaborate for two months per design session looking for innovative solutions to various problems and customer needs. When one two-month session ends another two-month session begins.

“We are encouraged to embrace change for innovations to keep new products in the pipeline,” Senneff said.

The process has been adopted to improve the speed of new products reaching the market pipeline. Many of them are internal upgrades and parts improvements to equipment. John Deere is quite secretive about its pipeline of products until they are actually introduced, Senneff noted.

To prove the point that John Deere has innovative engineers, a video of different autonomous tractor demonstrations was shown to the media. The driverless tractors were operated as coordinated tractors and follower tractors.

Farm tasks possible to perform with autonomous equipment explained in the video were a tractor moving in coordination with a combine for unloading grain into a wagon, applicators spraying crops, mowers cutting hay and combines harvesting wheat.

Farmers and the public aren’t ready for autonomous tractors to be turned loose in fields or going down roads, John Deere contends. “We don’t think the time is quite right to introduce these technologies,” said Bob Dyar, product manager with the Intelligence Solutions Group.

Even though autonomous tractors are a ways down the road before introduction, Dyar noted, “our society does have an appetite for new technology.”

The marketing arm of the Intelligence Solutions Group is involved in collecting customer needs information and passing that information along to the engineers.

Dyar concluded by suggesting, “Customers are asking for solutions….It is not so much about horsepower.”     

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