Technological developments – from software advancements to sophisticated censors – over the last decade made automated and semi-automated tractors a reality. Today, most leading tractor manufacturers are working hard to bring automated models to market. US-based Deere, for example, showcased its electric automated and semi-automated technologies at Agritecnica 2019.
The development of semi- and fully automated tractors is the culmination of many years of work and heavy R&D spending. Additionally, some manufacturers have used strategic acquisitions to advance their automated tractor programs. For example, Deere purchased Blue River Technology – a Silicon Valley start-up focusing on artificial intelligence and machine learning – in 2017 for more than $300 million, viewing the company as essential to its development of the next generations of agricultural equipment.
While automated and semi-automated tractors are visually indistinguishable from conventional models, they feature a variety of advanced technologies that allow them to operate independently. Autonomous and semi-autonomous models rely on some combination of advanced cameras and sensors, lasers, GPS, automation software, and related technologies to operate with limited or no human input.
Despite their high cost, farmers around the world have shown great interest in automated and semi-automated models. In addition to offering productivity and efficiency gains, these tractors help address labor shortages and a lack of skilled equipment operators in rural areas, a key problem in countries like Japan. Automated and semi-automated tractors are also better able to work together because they can communicate. These machines also collect a wide range of information and farmers are able to use these to adjust their operations.
In the near term, we will see semi-autonomous models make in-roads around the world. This technology has already been tested in real world environments, and the capabilities of semi-autonomous tractors continue to grow. As costs come down and they become available in more countries, global sales of these machines are likely to rise significantly. Manufacturers and distribute it will invest more in the promotion of semi-autonomous models.
The widespread adoption of autonomous tractors, however, is still several years away. The necessary technologies are being perfected and manufacturers are working hard to reduce the cost of these models, which remain prohibitively expensive. Today, for example, automated tractors are unable to operate in some difficult conditions and still have considerable limitations (e.g., working in the proximity of people).
As competition in the agricultural sector intensifies and farmers need to feed a greater number of people, technological innovation will play a key role. Tractors are among the most important and versatile types of agricultural machinery, and they will remain so for the foreseeable future. Automated and semi-automated models will be paired with other advanced technologies to maximize their benefit. For example, Deere’s semi-automated tractor concept includes an advanced integrated crop sprayer that helps boost productivity and reduce costs by 20%. With each year, more and more capable models will appear and the shift towards automate and semi-automated models will accelerate.
For more information, please see The Freedonia Group’s new Global Farm Tractors and Global Agricultural Equipment studies.
About the Author:
Gleb Mytko is an Industry Analyst at The Freedonia Group, where his work covers the global automotive, transportation, and machinery markets.