John Deere brings autonomous equipment to its lineup of heavy machinery

John Deere, the world’s largest producer of heavy farm equipment, has gone autonomous. The agricultural behemoth, which acquired artificial intelligence (AI) startup Bear Flag Robotics in August, announced last week that it had created a new version of its 8R tractor that, for the first time, would not require a driver at the wheel. For the past decade, the company has waded further and further into tech, positioning itself as much more than a farm equipment producer, Modern Farmer reports. Its tractors and equipment gather large swaths of prized data that the company owns—a sore point for farmers and activists—and vigorously defends (Deere & Company, also one of the country’s top 5 ag-banks, has a virtual monopoly on major farm equipment and has fought against farmers’ efforts to complete self-repairs). The driverless 8R tractor will use six pairs of cameras to identify obstacles and includes an AI system modeled after actual biological brains. The system will also be able to read soil quality and composition. Deere, in its typical fashion, will own all the data. The price tag for a John Deere tractor with a mind of its own hasn’t yet been announced, but with used 8R models currently selling for between $300,000 and $500,000, my human brain estimates the cost will be steep. Safiya Charles