On acres of golden wheat as far as the eye can see, a farmer is up with the sun. It’s harvest season and he’s getting ready to tend to his crops. But not before consulting GrainTruckPlus.
A mobile app, GrainTruckPlus helps farmers manage their grain harvesting fleet from the field to their preferred elevators. It’s just one of several John Deere apps that assist farmers with their operations.
Where are these apps developed?
Enter the John Deere Technology Innovation Center (JDTIC) at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. As part of the university’s tech community, the Research Park, professors and staff are regularly developing new technologies while giving students real-world hands-on opportunities to invent.
The Research Park is comprised of over 100 companies, part of a vibrant, multidisciplinary community focused on advancing technology. It’s tied to the university’s core mission of economic development and innovation.
Julian Sanchez, JDTIC’s director, remarks, “Typically the projects we have our students execute are of potential high impact. Digital innovation moves so fast that if you innovate and create something new, before you know it, it’s ready to go to market.”
The collection of John Deere mobile apps is one key example of this innovation. Since it opened in 2008, JDTIC helped develop many of John Deere’s mobile apps — from spraying to harvesting.
There are “Go” apps and “Plus” apps. “Go” apps are easy-to-use digital start guides that help customers configure their vehicles, and “Plus” apps help farmers efficiently manage their operations by tracking performance goals. “In some cases, it was the first version of the app that came out of the center,” says Sanchez. “It’s one of the key capabilities that exists right here. The mobile solutions are the tangible output.”
And that’s not all. Made up of several different departments, The JDTIC hosts experts across many fields to help the university continue to innovate. In Intellectual Property, a team of key researchers supports the university’s internal library system. In Software Development, the main team for Connect Mobile is located at JDTIC, and works to investigate cloud-based voice recognition systems. And in Agronomy, in-house agronomists help investigate issues in the crop sciences, and once identified, help John Deere design more productive machine solutions.
But the progress at the University of Illinois is only the beginning. John Deere is expanding its footprint in the tech and innovation space through its connections with another Midwest university, Iowa State University. Matthew Darr, a professor in Iowa State’s Ag & Biosystems Engineering program, explains, “We have a long relationship between our university and John Deere as a public entity, in terms of really believing in public/private partnerships as a way to enhance expertise of each institution.”
Just earlier this year, it was announced that a technology center would be developed on the Iowa State campus in Ames, Iowa, to continue this trend of progressive exploration. New director Pushpa Manukonda will keep the progress moving forward.
[It] helps develop innovation, but also raises the brand profile of John Deere as a technology company to attract the best and brightest to work for John Deere long term.”
—Matthew Darr, Iowa State professor
A Look Inside
Get an inside look at the John Deere Technology Innovation Center and the campus of the University of Illinois – Champaign/Urbana, Ill.
A Look Inside
A Symbiotic Relationship
As John Deere continues to grow, its partnerships are proving to be a win-win-win situation: for the company, the participating universities, and the students. At the University of Illinois, students are hired to work with the in-house agronomists to perform research and problem solve. “We have very strong ties with the crop sciences department,” says Sanchez. “We typically target graduate students because we’re doing experimental research, so we want the PhD type of student who has a very rigorous scientific approach.” At Iowa State, John Deere’s presence helps students continue to grow their skills. “There’s John Deere engagement with some of our core courses to supply equipment and technology [to our students],” says Darr. “It allows John Deere to market themselves to our students in a way that’s differentiated from a standalone ag company.”
Serving as a pipeline for talent, the investment is also proving to be invaluable for recruitment and employment opportunities within John Deere. By committing to these active partnerships, the company has given rise to some of the most promising minds in the country. Says Darr, “With Iowa State, that’s particularly been in engineering innovations and growing relationships around precision ag and product innovations. [It] ensures the future employee lines of John Deere really come into the company with the best possible background.”
For Sanchez, the proof is in the numbers. “At least five of our Industrial and Graphic designers that are working for John Deere have come out of the program down here.”
At the end of the day, it all comes down to shared growth and potential. Not only do these programs benefit John Deere as a leading-edge, technology focused organization, but the students learn to take risks. “One of the things we talk about in innovation is failing fast and failing early,” says Sanchez. “You try things and see if they’re going to work, and if you fail, that’s okay! You move on; you try something else.” And it’s out of this cyclical process – try, fail, repeat – where true innovation is found.