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Agriculture Technology Podcast Ep. 162: The Road to Automation

7 Mar 2022

Earlier this year, John Deere unveiled revealed a fully autonomous tractor, available for large-scale production. The machine combines Deere's 8R tractor, TruSet-enabled chisel plow, GPS guidance system, and new advanced technologies.

Tony dives into this release from John Deere and answers the questions growers have.


You can find past podcast episodes by visiting our Podcast website

Have precision ag questions? We have the answers. Find a specific channel dedicated to answering your precision technology questions: Precision Ag Answers 


View the entire transcript here:

Tony: Hello and welcome back to the show. This is episode number 162. In this episode, we are going to talk about the road to automation and what that looks like for your farming operation. I don't have anything else to say, so let's dive into it right away. We do not have a guest on the show, it's just going to be me chatting about what we as John Deere dealerships have seen in the past couple of weeks. We've all attended a number of virtual meetings, and we've learned a lot of stuff about John Deere and where they're going with automation and the digital age of farming.

As many of you know, just over a month ago, on January 4th, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, John Deere released the first fully autonomous tillage tractor or tillage solution and a lot of questions came from that, lot of people are wondering, "What is it? What is it going to take? How can I get my hands on it? Where can I start?" That's really what I wanted to talk about today is what can we do today to prepare ourselves or set ourselves up for a fully autonomous solution, like what John Deere introduced at CES.

What do we know right now? Right now, the things we do know is that John Deere is coming out with a solution, or they have come out with it. It is in very limited availability for right now. That being said, John Deere is working very hard and very diligently to grow this in the coming years. It's not a long, long, long time. We're not looking in10, 15 years in the future, we are looking a couple years into the future, 2023, '24, '25, that timeframe for major availability of this product.

Now, one of the things that we do know is that this is a solution that can be added to a current 8R tractor utilizing a current 2430 Chisel Plow. It's tools that you as a grower already have or will potentially have on your farm. You take that 8R tractor, you add these cameras, these stereo cameras onto the machine, now they have a set of them that goes upfront, and then they have a set of them in the back of the machine and on the sides, the back corners, and that is what makes out the 360-degree viewing radius.

Now, that's what we know today. Again, it's available in very limited quantities. You would have to talk to your local dealership to find out the specifics, but it is very limited right now. John Deere is working to grow that in the coming years.

Now, what we know today and what we can do today will help set us up for any of you out there listening that is interested in getting to that autonomous solution. Now, the big thing we know is labor. It's hard to find labor. It's hard to keep those tillage tractors running, and that's really where all of this comes into play, is how can we set ourselves up for when this is widely available, how can we make sure we are in line or we are set up on our operation to be able to jump right into it and take a guy out of that tillage tractor, let that machine run 24/7 throughout the night, and when we're taking care of other projects and other things that need to be done on the operation?

To start, one of the things that we can do is Gen 4 automation activation, or if you're utilizing a 4640, the automation subscription. Let's start with that, making sure that we have that capability on our machines. I guess that's kind of two things, Gen 4 is one of them. We need to have that Generation 4 Display in our machines in order to continue moving forward in the autonomous world of farming.

Now, on top of that, Gen 4 and automation activation-- Now, the automation activation unlocks a number of things for us. Those are some of the things that we're going to talk about right now on what we can do today to help set us up for success for automation in the future.

We've got the Gen 4. We've got the automation activation or subscription. The next piece of that puzzle is utilizing things like AutoTrac Turn Automation. Now, back in Episode 126, I would encourage you to go back and listen to it, we talked in-depth about what is AutoTrac Turn Automation. In a nutshell, AutoTrac Turn Automation is every piece of full autonomy, but you have the operator in the cab. You have the operator there for presence, for safety, for all of that stuff.

What that does is that gets us in the system, that gets us running it, that gets us familiar with it. That is a solution today that is fully available across the platform on Gen 4 for any farm to be utilizing. It gets us one step closer to autonomy.

Utilizing AutoTrac Turn Automation or many of you may hear it as ATTA, utilize that on your farm. The next thing we can do is Implement Guidance. Episode number 131, we talked more about that on what Implement Guidance is, the two different levels of Implement Guidance, whether it's passive or active or AutoTrac Turn Automation versus Active Implement Guidance.

With Implement Guidance, again, that comes with our automation activation. With Implement Guidance, we are adding a receiver to that implement. That right there is another piece of the puzzle that we need to get to, to prepare ourselves for automation, is getting a receiver on your implements.

Now, of course, big ones are going to be any strip-tilling, any planters, sprayers, things like that, and then utilizing that Implement Guidance, AutoTrac Turn Automation, everything that goes with that.

Now, the next piece, Episode 136, I sat down with Ben Hilde and talked about AutoPath. Now that we've got that receiver on our implement, we can utilize AutoPath. If we are strip-tilling or we are planting, what is happening is that receiver on the implement is documenting every row. Whether it's 12 rows, 24 rows, 36 rows, whatever it may be, every individual row is being documented as a guidance line. There again, it's another step to help set us up for automation in the future.

Episodes 126, 131, and 136, I would highly encourage you to go back and listen to those episodes in-depth, learning more about AutoTrac Turn Automation, the different levels of Implement Guidance, and then utilizing AutoPath. Now, those are just a couple of the pieces in the automation of what can we do today. Utilizing that is not the fully autonomous solution, but it is what we have today that is readily available for every operation out there that is utilizing the Gen 4 platform.

Now, if you're not utilizing the Gen 4 platform, that's going to be, of course, your first step. Let's get out of those 2630s, let's get out of those 2600s, and let's jump into Gen 4, into the world of Generation 4 Displays. Whether you have a machine that has the Gen 4 CommandARM, you've got an 8R, it's going to have to be 2014 or newer. Then, of course, you're going to have to check with your local dealership, whether it has the version 2 processor or not.

We need to make sure it's Gen 4, version 2 processor, 4640 displays, that's what we're going to need to make that jump from the 2630, 2600, into the Gen 4 world. Now, those pieces are all hardware implemented on the displays, the receivers, all of that type of stuff.

The other one that I do believe gets often overlooked is the John Deere Operations Center. Now, the reason I say that is because the John Deere Operations Center is going to be a very big piece of this whole ecosystem. Why that is is we need to have boundaries. For any of this technology and automation moving forward, we need to have good, clean boundaries.

Now, there's a lot of different ways we can get these boundaries. Of course, we can just hand-draw in the operation center. We can utilize it from a prior application like planting or harvest. The absolute best way to map our boundaries is to utilize RTK correction and drive around the edge of every single field that we have. Now, I understand depending on different growing seasons and different regions in the United States and in the world, it's hard to do sometimes, but that is, and always will be, for the foreseeable future, that is the best way to get the most accurate boundaries.

Now, I know there's a lot of things that people say about why I don't like boundaries because of X, Y, or Z, or I don't really utilize boundaries because they don't benefit me. There are a lot of benefits to the boundaries and having good, clean boundaries. One of the biggest benefits, of course, is setting ourselves up for the future for any automation. Even AutoTrac Turn Automation technology that's available today, we need the boundaries.

Get in, go into the Operations Center, make sure your boundaries are clean. The other thing within the John Deere Operations Center is your field names or your client farm field. There's a lot of different ways to do that. I am not going to tell you one single way on what the right way to essentially file your fields is, but you need to come up with a system, and you need to make sure it's clean no matter how you do it. The system has to know client farm field, what field are we in, what client does it utilize? All of that stuff.

Making sure all of the data within the John Deere Operations Center is clean. The next step on that with the John Deere Operations Center is Operations Center Mobile. If you do not have it already, I highly, highly encourage you to go out to your mobile device app store, whether it's the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. Go out there and download Operations Center Mobile for your device.

What that is going to do is it's going to give you certain pieces of the operations center, is going to give you access to them right on your mobile device. Now, any of you that watched the CES press release or maybe you've seen some YouTube videos or some articles about it, the fully autonomous solution is run right from that app. It is not a separate computer software system. It is not an extremely elaborate kind of working of softwares and technologies, it is operated right from your mobile app.

Making sure you're utilizing the John Deere Operations Center Mobile today and doing things, being familiar with it. A couple of the automation things that can be done already on there is if any of you are familiar with the Auto Maintain or Combine Remote Adjust-- Sorry, Auto Maintain is another feature of technology, but Remote View and Adjust that we can do on the combines today from our phones.

That is episode number 124. We talked about different technologies that can be utilized on the combine, different packages that are there, but Remote View and Adjust. Those of you with S700 Series Combines updated software and the Operations Center Mobile app, you can view the combine settings right from my operation.

You can view-- hold on, Jim, take this stuff out. You can view the combine settings right from the Operations Center Mobile app, and you can make adjustments. Now, that sends an alert to the operator in the cab and says, "Hey, so and so would like to make these adjustments," whether it's cleaning fan speed or sieve or chaffer settings or whatever it may be, that can be done from the mobile app.

If you're not in there already, if you're not utilizing the Operations Center Mobile app already, download it, enter in your username and password for your operation center online or on the website and get in there and start using it. There's a lot of cool metrics. John Deere just talked to us last week in some of those virtual meetings that all of the things that are coming, some of the things that are already out there, things like Work Planner, making essentially work orders, mini work orders for your farm and your machines and your operations, there's a lot of different pieces.

Not to throw a ton of stuff at you, but I just wanted to make it aware that there are ways today that we can prepare for these autonomous solutions down the road. Making sure we're on that Gen 4 Platform, are utilizing the John Deere Operations Center, we have the automation 4.0 activation, and we're using things on our farm today like AutoTrac Turn Automation, Implement Guidance, AutoPath, all of that stuff can set us up for success when the fully autonomous tillage solution is widely available, once this continues to grow.

Like I said, John Deere is working very hard to continue to expand the offerings of this tillage solution or this autonomous solution. It is not far in the future. It is in the very near future. I encourage everybody, be prepared, do what you can do today in order to have success in the future, and jump into some of this technology. We all know that it's painful if you try to take the leap all at once, it's a lot to learn, it's a lot to invest in, there's a lot of stuff going on. If we can prepare ahead of time and we can be ready for it, it's going to set our operations up for success.

That is what I had for you today. Hopefully, this was helpful and you guys learned something a little bit about your road to automation and what that looks like for your operation and what you're doing today. With that, thanks again for listening and we'll catch you on the next one.

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