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John Deere is plowing IoT into its farm equipment

Tim Greene | May 18, 2016
Add-ons, embedded technology make sowing and reaping more efficient.

John Deere is taking the Internet of Things out into the field by developing new technologies and embracing existing ones to boost the efficiency of prepping, planting, feeding and harvesting with the goal of improving per-acre crop yields.

ron zink1
Ron Zink

These technologies include IoT sensors, wireless communications, cloud apps and even a steering-wheel replacement that guides precision passes across arable land, says Ron Zink, director of On-Board Applications in the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group.

While the company’s use of IoT devices is highly specialized, he says his experiences hold lessons valuable to any business looking to piece together systems and platforms out of individual technologies. These lessons come in two areas: businesses that use IoT to improve the manufacturing process of the products they sell, and incorporating IoT devices into those devices.

In stitching together technologies, IT groups in businesses essentially become systems integrators trying to tie together the unique mix they need, Zink says. They have to answer how to create the tools needed and to decide what technologies can help you do more with less.

He says these IT pros should be willing to experiment with new devices, developing them quickly and giving them trials as soon as possible to determine their value.

Zink operates under the principle of minimum viable product in which you create something and test it to see if it works. “As you learn you kill off the ones that aren’t doing well, but the ones that are doing well, you build from those,” he says, “and create a broader service around them.”

He suggests that corporate IT pros dealing with IoT adopt a similar mentality, creating small wins that will eventually become a big win. He contrasts this approach to multi-year projects that pay great attention to detail but that don’t prove out until the end of a long time window.

On John Deere farm systems, Zink focuses on the IoT part of the equation by figuring out how to use mobile and computing technologies to create experiences he might not be able to create if the company tried to develop all the technology itself. He says he looks ahead three to five years at what the company might get out of building upon other vendors’ platforms, such as iOS.

For example, iPads are a part of John Deere’s technology arsenal. The company created an iPad app with nine mapping layers that track what’s happening in the field. Users can set, for example, how many seeds are planted per acre, and precisely how far apart they are planted.

One mapping layer called singulation shows a groups of up to 10 seeds (the number distributed in 20 millisec) and shows on the iPad exactly where they are located and whether they are spaced properly, seed-by-seed, he says.


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