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Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


Would You Trust a Driverless Car (or Tractor)?

Jul 03, 2012

Thirty years ago, television audiences were introduced to Knight Rider, which starred a car better known as KITT. KITT was equipped with everything from the practical (turbo boost) to the stylish (convertible roof) to the improbable (flame throwers). And of course, the car drove itself.

The premise entertained 1982 audiences with its "what if" look at technology. But in 2012, "what if" is quickly turning into "what next"? The era of driverless vehicles is upon us. In May, the state of Nevada awarded Google license to operate "autonomous vehicles" on its roads. A long list of car manufacturers have their own projects in development, including BMW, Audi, Volvo, GM, Ford, Volkswagen and many more.

Several agricultural equipment companies are also developing driverless tractor technology. A recent Farm Journal feature highlighted how companies like Kinze and Fendt are working on automated equipment. And a recent visit with John Deere officials revealed they have been working on driverless tractors for the past "five or ten years," according to Bob Dyar, a product manager with the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group.

Dyar says the real hurdles today aren’t technological ones -– they’re social ones. How comfortable would you feel driving 60 mph down the highway and seeing a driverless car pull up alongside your car, he asks? He says a similar comfort level for driverless tractors will also take time to develop.

"It’s quite easy to make a tractor autonomous where it can drive itself," he says. "The challenge is making it perceptive, so you trust it not to hit a tree or the family dog."

Meantime, John Deere has rolled out equipment with some autonomous functionality. Specifically, the company’s newer machine synch technology allows combine operators to control the location of both the tractor and the grain cart for automated on-the-go unloading. They can lock the grain cart into position and adjust it as needed for more efficient cart filling.

Now if someone could just look into building a tractor with flame throwers…

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