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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.

Another IoT add-on for a row unit (which puts the seed in the ground) is a sensor that measures the pressure being exerted on each seed as it’s planted. Farmers want to change this pressure depending on how soft the soil is that they’re planting. Based on the readings, managers can adjust the pressure and the spacing. That way the seeds are set at the optimal depth and distance apart for successful growth.

The IoT sensors on the planters can communicate sensor data via Wi-Fi or other wireless technology to an iPad in the cab of a vehicle where the operator can use it to make adjustments.

The data can also be sent via cellular network to the John Deere cloud. To do this, the company came up with Mobile Data Transfer, which is a dongle that plugs into displays for John Deer equipment but also into other embedded displays in the vehicles to do bi-directional transfers with the cloud. It enables connecting machines that don’t have built-in cellular modems. So the device on the equipment connects via Wi-Fi to the Internet and from there to the cloud.

John Deere also makes after-market guidance gear. One product is the Autotrack Universal 200 – a steering-wheel replacement that takes over steering machines so they cut more exact swaths across fields and make more precise turns to align the next pass with the previous one with minimal overlap and gaps.

He says they can get within an inch of accuracy, a good trick for a device that could be 120-feet wide. It relies on a GPS receiver, a base station, transmitter and a display. The technology is used on tractors, combines and sprayers in 35 countries.

The system reduces the number of seeds or pounds of nutrients devices spread and improves yield by not double planting rows where the plants would compete against each other.

It’s not an attempt to create a driverless vehicle, rather it frees up the driver to handle other complex tasks that need to be performed onboard to control the device a tractor might be pulling. “It lets you focus on the other things that are happening,” he says.

Combines harvesting grain gather a large amount of material but you don’t want to stop the combine to unload it. “You want to unload it on the go,” he says. Farmers pull up to the combine with a tractor hauling a grain cart and unload the grain bin on the combine. As the tractor nears the combine, the combine takes over the tractor, steering it and controlling its speed. Once the cart is full, the tractor peels away and unloads somewhere else. The tractor has a driver.


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