John Deere, the American company whose steel plough revolutionised 19th-century farming, is breaking new ground with the creation of its first driverless tractor.
The farming giant’s fully autonomus 8R tractor is capable of driving and ploughing fields without human supervision thanks to six pairs of cameras that provide it with a 360-degree view of its surroundings.

The camera’s images pass through an artificial intelligence deep neural network that helps it to detect obstacles and calculate distances accurately to within less than an inch.

Farmers simply need to transport the machine to a field and set it to start tillage (preparing the land to grow crops by digging and overturning it) through a paired smartphone app, and the tractor can be left to continue on its own.

The John Deere Operations Centre Mobile app displays a live video feed of the tractor, alongside images, data and real-time metrics, meaning the farmer can make adjustments to its speed or depth of ploughing remotely.

If the system’s algorithms encounter anything unexpected, it sends images to an external team of tele-operators for analysis, who alert the farmer if it’s something that requires human intervention.

Encountering cows, sheep or other unexpected animals in a field would cause the tractor to stop.

Given that the 8R can prepare more than 325 acres of soil in 24 hours, being able to work fields for longer when weather conditions allow would free farmers to focus on other tasks and improve their harvests without increasing their labour, its manufacturer says.

The Deer & Co. John Deere 8R fully autonomous tractor is displayed ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 4, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. - The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the world's largest trade fairs, returns to Las Vegas in person this week under a newly resurgent pandemic that has supercharged the industry but threatens its downsized expo. Masks and proof of vaccination are required at the show that opens Wednesday and was trimmed by one day to end Friday, with expected exhibitors down more than half to roughly 2,200 from the last in-person CES. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
The tractor needs refuelling every eight hours (Photo: AFP)

John Deere claims the driverless model is twice as productive as a standard tractor driven by a human because it can handle two jobs simultaneously – although it requires refuelling every eight hours or so, and would need to be manually moved between fields.

Self-driving tractors are a solution for the rising demand for food as the world’s population continues to grow, the company claims, adding that a shortage of land and skilled labour are among the challenges farmers are face.

“There is an increasing gap between the labour needed and labour available”, Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer at John Deere, said during a presentation at tech show CES.

“Farmers need technology to help them do more with less; to minimise their inputs and maximise output to put food on the table.”

Farmers in the US will be able to use the technology this year, although the company is currently deciding whether to sell, lease or create a subscription upgrade package, Mr Hindman told Reuters.

He said that the cameras and computers for automated ploughing could be installed on an existing tractor within a day.

The company is currently exploring automating other farm tasks including spraying, he added.