John Deere sells a wide variety of farming and gardening equipment, from large agricultural machinery to simple lawn mowers. The company’s tractors have gained a reputation for being famously difficult to repair by owners, but now the company is showing off a (supposedly) fully autonomous tractor at CES 2022.
The company said in a press release, “the autonomous tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras, which enables 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation of distance. Images captured by the cameras are passed through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds and determines if the machine continues to move or stops, depending on if an obstacle is detected. The autonomous tractor is also continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to, and is accurate to within less than 1 inch.”
John Deere says once the tractor is located in a field, it can be remotely started and managed. The “John Deere Operations Center Mobile” provides live video, images, data, and metrics, and machine anomalies are automatically reported to the farmer. I’m not sure how much I trust John Deere to make that work, considering the company’s site for CES 2022 doesn’t even have HTTPS support, but the company says the tractor will be ready “later this year.”
John Deere’s tractors are notoriously difficult to repair and manage, as the company has a history of enforcing digital rights management (DRM) on its tractor software, so that only certified John Deere dealers can diagnose and repair problems — much in the same way that Apple prevents non-certified repair shops from obtaining official support software and replacement parts for Macs, iPhones, and other Apple products. The company’s anti-consumer behavior has been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others. John Deere also faced a prolonged worker strike last year, in which the company tried to replace striking workers with office workers who ended up injuring themselves and crashing tractors.
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