Monthly Archives: July 2016

Self-Driving Tractors


There has been a lot written about the emergence of autonomous cars, but little has been publicized about autonomous tractors. Farmers have been using self-driving tractors in their fields for more than two decades. These tractors are a critical part of the farming process, giving more crop yield and efficiency than older tractors. (For safety, the tractors still require a person behind the wheel, although that person never has to actually touch the steering wheel.)

Today’s tractors have auto-track capabilities so they can run at night, drive a straight line or a curved path, have sensor paddles on wheels to detect stalks, and include hands-free guidance systems to keep tractors on course. Camera and displays help farmers monitor planting and harvesting. Sensors and controllers keep tractors working accurately, tracking yield and productivity.

The technology is pricey though. To outfit a new tractor with auto-steering, navigation, and guidance technology costs upwards of $20,000. And then additional subscription fees apply for using satellite or radio signals in the fields. And, just like automobiles, security is a top priority with software encrypted to protect from hackers.

Auto manufacturers can learn a lot from these tractors.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss autonomous vehicles with the class. Ask students if they are familiar with self-driving tractors.
  2. Show a video of self-driving tractor:
  3. Bring up the John Deere Web site:
  4. Discuss the components of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
  5. Divide students into teams. Have each team prepare a SWOT analysis for the John Deere autonomous tractors.
  6. What are the main threats? Opportunities?
  7. What lessons can automobile manufacturers learn from the tractors?

Source: Manufacturing Business Technology, CNET



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R.I.P. – Blackberry Classic


Eventually, all things must come to an end. While it’s tough to see a favorite product discontinued, sometimes the market has moved on, but the product didn’t keep up. This is the case for Canadian-based company, BlackBerry. The company has announced that it will stop producing the BlackBerry Classic, one of the few phones with a plastic keyboard and track ball.

The BlackBerry phones long dominated the early smartphone market and were the device of choice for business people and leaders (remember when Pres. Obama had to give up his BlackBerry?). The BlackBerry Classic was introduced in 2014 to give users a physical keyboard instead of touchscreen, hoping to build market share among users who like pounding on a keyboard. But, no product lasts forever, particularly in technology, and Apple and Samsung have quickly moved to take over dominant positions in the smart phone market.

While BlackBerry does not disclose the sales volume of individual products, the company’s phone business has not been profitable and is declining.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the evolution of smart phones.
  2. For those who are not familiar with the product, here is a video review:
  3. Discuss BlackBerry phones and show the Web site:
  4. Next, discuss BlackBerry’s announcement to discontinue the Classic. Blog post:
  5. Why is the product being discontinued?
  6. Discuss the stages in the product life cycle. What are the marketing objectives in each stage?
  7. Divide students into teams. Have each team draw a product life cycle and place various products and services into each stage.
  8. Next, have students brainstorm on how to reposition or revise products/services to that they can move into an earlier stage of the life cycle.

Source: Manufacturing Business Technology, New York Times

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A New Way to have Phone-Free Zones



Have you ever been at an event and noticed that the use of smart phones distracts from the moment? (Or at least other people’s phones distract from the moment!) This can be a significant problem for venues and artists who want to create a phone-free environment. It’s a good idea, but getting people to give up their phones is tough. There is a new solution though from a company named Yondr – the Yondr phone pouch.

It’s a simple concept. As people arrive at an event, they place their phones in Yondr cases. Inside of the phone-free zone, the cases automatically lock. People keep possession of their phones and the phones are not disruptive during performances. To unlock the case, simply step outside of the phone-free zone.

Many artists have embraced the cases. Comedian Dave Chappelle has made it mandatory for all his shows, and other artists such as Alicia Keys, the Lumineers, and Louis C.K. are also using the phone cases, as are some schools. But breaking people’s addiction to smart phones is still a tough sell.

Put away your phone and enjoy the moment!

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the use of phones at events. Ask students what their experiences have been and how they feel about phone-free events.
  2. Show a video about the product:
  3. Show the company Web site:

Source: Washington Post, CBS News


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