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:
- Discuss autonomous vehicles with the class. Ask students if they are familiar with self-driving tractors.
- Show a video of self-driving tractor: https://youtu.be/RbZkVq9hmTI
- Bring up the John Deere Web site: https://www.deere.com/en_US/industry/agriculture/agriculture.page
- Discuss the components of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
- Divide students into teams. Have each team prepare a SWOT analysis for the John Deere autonomous tractors.
- What are the main threats? Opportunities?
- What lessons can automobile manufacturers learn from the tractors?
Source: Manufacturing Business Technology, CNET