While companies compete to get self-driving cars on the ground, there is one industry that has been utilizing this technology for a decade – farms. John Deere has been producing semi-automated tractors for years, and several other companies have recently joined the competition.
The John Deere tractors currently on the market would fall under Level 3 automation, meaning they still require a human to be in the cab. That human, however, can be fully engaged in another activity. Farmers are able to sit in their tractors and run their businesses, not worrying about steering the tractors. Instead, the driver programs the route and advanced GPS technology allows the tractor to complete the route with extreme precision, avoiding missed spots and inefficient repetition of the same areas.
While these self-driving tractors offer great efficiency and save time, money and fuel, they are quite expensive, costing up to $20,000 per machine. Despite the cost, though, many farmers have found these tractors to be a game-changer and well worth their price tag.
So why are self-driving tractors available on the market when cars still seem to be years away? The primary difference is that these tractors are used on private land and do not run the risk interacting with other vehicles. Thus, there are fewer regulations and laws to worry about. Some liability issues, though, are unclear. If an automated tractor is correctly programmed but veers off track and damages a neighbor’s property, who is responsible? The farmer? The manufacturer?
John Deere’s self-driving tractors have been so successful that the company is also developing self-driving lawnmowers in Europe. As lawn mowers would be used on smaller pieces of property and in closer proximity to other people, one could imagine that liability questions would be more likely to arise.
For an interesting article about these self-driving tractors, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/news/farmers-reap-benefits-self-driving-tractor-technology/.
In 2016, Case IH debuted a new style of autonomous tractor that farmers could control through an app. This autonomous tractor could collect information regarding crops and harvests, and it could take pictures while working. The vehicle could also work with non-autonomous tractors and tools, working as a fleet. Case IH has acknowledged several hurdles before it can get this product to market. There are questions about who would own the data that the tractor collects, as well as how it would fall within current automobile regulations, especially considering that tractors often need to utilize roads to get to their destinations.