Roots of Innovation

Noel Anderson has earned more than 90 patents, continuing a long history of innovation.

Noel Anderson invents technology that can find its way onto our agricultural and construction equipment of tomorrow. Instead of looking at schematics, the 16-year John Deere employee often begins his mornings by listening to soundtracks. “If I’m really wanting to get into my zone, I’ll listen to music that I kind of reserve for inventive activity,” he said. “Over the last year or so, it’s been my Hanz Zimmer, Pandora station. In particular, the soundtrack to the science fiction movie Interstellar.

A self-proclaimed senior technologist and intellectual property strategist, Noel earned his master's and doctorate degree in computer engineering from Iowa State University.

Noel’s other favorites by Zimmer include the scores of Gladiator, The Dark Knight trilogy, Tron, and Inception. The sweeping orchestrations owe a debt to Ludwig von Beethoven, a 19th Century German composer known for taking long walks to spur creativity. Noel often begins workdays with a 2 to 3 mile walk to his office at John Deere Electronic Solutions in Fargo, N.D. Just how long depends on his route.

Automation Advances

Noel’s approach to creativity has earned him 94 patents thus far. More applications are pending and he hopes to crack 100 in the next year.

For example, say a vehicle is driving down the street. Sensors on the vehicle look for curbs to help make steering adjustments, but snow can sometimes hide those curbs, he said, possibly causing the vehicle to go off course. That’s where patent # US7299056B2 comes in. It’s a seasonal sensor that picks up bare tree branches for navigation in the winter.

Other inventions are born at home. “It takes a lot of time to rake the grass,” Noel  said. “And that’s just the way it is, but when there’s a roboticist in the house, it’s like, we should have robots doing this.” That thought was one of a number that eventually became “Yard Of Tomorrow” patent applications.

Noel said he didn’t want to waste time raking grass clippings or emptying the mower bag. This invention disclosure has an alternative. It’s a robot that automatically collects cut grass, compacts it into easy-to-handle plastic bags, and then deposits them on your lawn. It’s less time and less mess.

Ninety of Noel’s patents are assigned to John Deere, but he said few have been commercialized. The seasonal sensor isn’t for sale, something innovators like him say is normal. Initial creations often have no immediate use in mind. Noel, and other inventors like him, create new technology in line with John Deere’s broader business goals. Later, they find problems that technology can fix. While companies profit from selling new technology, they may also gain in other ways.

Hans Zimmer is scoring the movie Inferno, which premiers in October. It remains to be seen how his latest soundtrack will inspire Noel. Perhaps it will spark another fire in his imagination that will lead to further innovations.



Roots of Innovation


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