John Deere is officially producing fully autonomous, self-driving tractors.
Speaking with CNBC, Jorge Heraud, Deere’s vice president of automation and autonomy, revealed the company’s end goal for the AI-controlled vehicles.
Though less than 50 of them exist today, by 2030, the company aims to have “a fully autonomous farming system for row crops in place.”
“This comes from our realization that technology is going to drive value creation and increase productivity, profitability and sustainability for farmers,” Heraud said.
Not all farmers will see this move as added “sustainability,” however.
According to Wired, agriculture engineer Kevin Kenney is worried that “AI and autonomy could ultimately also give farmers less control over their operations,” as farmers would have to rely on the technology provided by Deere to ensure their operations were running smoothly.
“I’m all for innovation, and I think John Deere is a helluva company, but they’re trying to be the Facebook of farming,” Kenney said.
Wired also pointed out that “Deere did not say how much the new tractor will cost; its most expensive current models can run up to $800,000,” but the company is looking at several options, including a “subscription plan” for the new autonomous equipment.
In order to combat the high cost of fully autonomous equipment, one Deere competitor, AGCO, has chosen to make kits that can be added to existing equipment, CNBC reported.
“We have kits that allow you to do that with your existing fleet. We see a huge opportunity with the installed base, where farmers want to adopt technology to enhance their outcomes, and yet don’t want to flip their entire fleet and make that massive investment,” said Seth Crawford, senior vice president and general manager of AGCO.
From equipment that doesn’t need drivers, to the loss of control on farming operations, to the high cost of buying and maintaining new equipment, it doesn’t sound like “sustainability” will apply to farmers and their farms.
News of the company’s new tractor first came out when it was revealed at a press conference in January.
— CNET (@CNET) January 4, 2022
Deere first began delving into the world of AI when it bought Blue River Technology, a Silicon Valley startup, in 2017 for $305 million, CNBC reported. The company’s developments in AI are advanced to the point that the tractors can use cameras and processors to tell the difference between crops and weeds.
According to CNBC, the tractor company’s competitors have also entered the race to produce autonomous tractors.
Some experts in the field of artificial intelligence caution that innovations in AI technology could come with many negative trade-offs — for example, taking jobs away from workers.
Take Telsa CEO Elon Musk, for instance. In a 2019 interview with CNBC, Musk claimed, “AI will make jobs kind of pointless.”
Musk isn’t completely sour on the idea, however, noting that businesses focusing on “human interaction” would succeed in world quickly changing due to AI innovation.
But in the here and now, Musk’s aspirations of potential utopia won’t mean much to those whose jobs are actually on the line. As AI technology develops at an exponential pace, many Americans may be left behind in its wake.
The Western Journal reached out to John Deere for comment on their autonomous farming equipment but had not received a reply by the time the article was published.
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