The hulking green giant loomed large in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The magnetic pull of the 20-ton, S-770 combine was inescapable, drawing curious visitors at the 2019 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) into John Deere’s booth for a closer look at the technology-packed machine.
It was the first time a combine ever appeared at the world-renowned technology trade show (held Jan. 8-11); it was also the first time John Deere appeared at the show.
The combine was, for many visitors, the perfect place for a selfie photo. But it was also a point of entry to learn more about how Deere is working with artificial intelligence (AI), cameras, sensors, and self-driving technology on the farm.
For many visitors and representatives of the tech media, John Deere’s appearance at the world’s-biggest technology show was initially a mystery. At first many didn’t understand what they were seeing when they came upon the green and yellow machines and displays.
But the John Deere team at CES demonstrated just how much smart technology is already part of the company’s products and services – not a concept for the future.
“The tech industry knows Deere as the muscle in farming, but we wanted to highlight the brains of our products as well,” said Alex Purdy, director of Precision Agriculture Technology: Strategy & Business Development for John Deere.
The company decided to display at CES to tell the story of how Deere is using technology to help growers sustainably produce consumers’ food — and demonstrate how Deere is a technology leader.
Interactive displays showed how John Deere is on the leading edge of smart technologies like advanced computer vision, sensor fusion, edge computing, AI, machine learning – and is deploying them on a fleet of Deere machines on farms around the world.
The John Deere team demonstrated just how much smart technology is already part of its products and services – not a concept for the future.
Innovation Never Stops
The Deere booth, located in the heart of CES’s displays on artificial intelligence, was definitely in the right place.
“What we’re really sharing with the public is how much technology and innovation is involved with agriculture,” said John Teeple, director of Advanced Technology for John Deere. “John Deere’s investments in our digital platform and connected machines, computer vision, machine learning, robotics and advanced automation are really helping unlock new value for farmers, as we work to feed a growing population and make sure those needs are met.”
Many visitors to the John Deere booth had no idea the company currently integrates so much technology into its products, according to Purdy.
“Our technology-first approach resounded with the audience,” he said. “One of the coolest things is that almost everything we displayed is in production and sold today. That isn’t true of many of the products displayed by other companies at CES.”
AI on the Farm
Visitors also saw displays featuring other forms of artificial intelligence, including a Blue River See & Spray unit. A video display showed how the technology allows growers to use AI and robotics to apply herbicide with accuracy. See & Spray leverages deep learning to identify a variety of plants — both crop and weeds.
The display demonstrated how the technology reduces both herbicide use and input cost for growers, doing more with substantially less.
“The equipment Deere is producing allows growers to make decisions about their crops at an individual plant level versus the entire field,” Purdy said.
Purdy noted how the term artificial intelligence can have worrisome connotations to those outside the tech industry, but “we tore down some of the myths,” Purdy explained. “What’s interesting is we’ve humanized AI.”
Outside of the convention center, Deere had a self-driving tractor display set up on a route through a demo track.
Members of the tech media got a firsthand look at how precision guidance, cameras and sensors and the importance of repeatability work together. Deere representatives helped explained the self-driving technology that, for Deere, isn’t new.
“There’s a lot of press around self-driving cars,” said Deanna Kovar, director of Precision Ag Marketing for John Deere, “but in agriculture we’ve had technology driving our equipment for almost 20 years. We want to help people understand that and it’s not good enough for us to get to the three-meter accuracy like our automotive friends are doing. We’re getting down to the 2.5-centimeter accuracy.”
Feeding a Growing World
For many visitors who saw the self-driving tractor and John Deere booth, it was their first up-close look at how technology and agriculture are working together to feed a growing world.
“Most people didn’t know what a combine was,” Purdy said. “Somebody asked, ‘what’s that huge lawnmower?’”
But Purdy said he was most surprised by how quickly visitors understood how the technologies were being applied to farming.
“I thought it would be more challenging for people to grasp,” he said, “but people got it and really saw the big picture.”