Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Self-driving tractors saving money and time on America's farms

While Google is getting plenty of press for its self-driving car prototype that is still years away from going on the market, farmers are already taking advantage of tractors that offer the same technology but without the hassle of federal regulations, Andrea Peterson reports for The Washington Post. Federal regulations don't specifically address tractors, mostly because they are largely used in fields, not on roads.

That means farmers like Jason Poole, a crop consultant from Kansas, can save time and money by using self-driving tractors, Peterson writes. Poole "drives the first curved row manually to teach the layout to his tractor's guidance system and handles the turns himself," Peterson writes. "But after that, he takes his hands off the steering wheel and allows the tractor to finish." He told Peterson, "We kind of laugh when we see news stories about self-driving cars because we've had that for years."

"The self-driving technology being sold by John Deere and some of its competitors [is] less technically complex than the fully driverless cars that big tech companies and car manufacturers are working on," Peterson writes. "And for now, the tractors are still supposed to have a driver behind the wheel—even if they never touch it. But they've already started to transform farming in America and abroad: John Deere is selling auto-steering and other self-guidance tech in more than 100 countries, said Cory Reed, vice president of the company's Intelligent Solutions Group."

"The systems come with their own risks, including concerns that they could be hacked," Peterson writes. "But because farm-equipment makers operate almost exclusively on private land, they've been able to bring products to market much quicker than consumer automakers—and without the same level of regulatory scrutiny." (Read more (YouTube video)

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