John Deere's "Future Zone" at the Agritechnica machinery show last fall, in Hanover, Germany, was not about what you may purchase in 2020 but in 2030, the company says.
Deere featured a tractor cab without a steering wheel and three different autonomous systems to spray crops, two of the aerial variety and one for those who keep their boots on the ground.
There were autonomous tractor options, too: one powered by a sensor package bolted to the front of an existing machine, the other an electric autonomous tractor roughly the size of a large SUV but fully capable of hauling standard implements. That, even Deere admits, is still quite a ways, perhaps even decades, from coming to the local dealership.
This new tech was attention-getting, but what stole the show in Germany was a new transmission that may be available soon.
Deere won the only gold medal awarded at Agritechnica with its eAutoPowr transmission design, and it's something that could be coming to a farm not in the next few decades but in the next few years.
The eAutoPowr is the "world's first continuously variable transmission with electromechanical power split" including two power outlets. It's a tractor transmission innovation that allows the tractor to generate electricity, 100 kilowatts, so it can run power to the axles on towed implements.
"Think about MFWD (mechanical 4-wheel-drive) in the '80s," says Curt Jensen, Deere program manager for eAutoPowr. "Now, instead of 4-wheel-drive, we have 8-wheel-drive."
Jensen sees a world of benefits. Tractors now often loaded down with ballast to get better traction can be lightened. If the implement is doing some of the hauling itself, rather than just being dragged through a field, smaller tractors can haul larger loads and wider implements, and do so more efficiently.
"If you're pulling a heavy slurry tanker with an injector and you're going up a hill ... I might experience 30 or 40% slip," Jensen says. "That's power wasted blowing out the exhaust stack. If I turn that axle on, I can dial my slip down a lot lower, under 10% and to a more efficient level. I'm getting that power to the ground."
Deere's currently developing the tech with European ag spreading and transport manufacturer Joskin. It plans to launch an implement when Deere rolls out the innovation with its 8R tractors in as soon as two years, according to Jensen. It could help give a key in-field boost to everything from chisels to plows to silage wagons.
"It's going to fundamentally change the industry," Jensen says. "It's going to change the way we design tractors. We're on the cusp of a revolution."
Deere also revealed at Agritechnica what it believes will soon be the biggest beast in the field. The X9 combine will be launched globally later in 2020.
"This is certainly a next-generational machine that we get
to add to our existing portfolio," explains Nathan Kramer, Deere division marketing manager for current products. "It's not going to eliminate the S series. It's a step function change or improvement in capacity and efficiency over where the 790 is today."
Deere has not released details about the X9's actual capacity increase or grain tank size.
The all-new X9 combine and matching draper are specifically designed for difficult small-grain and high-moisture corn-harvesting conditions. Compared to the S790, the largest model in Deere's current lineup, the X9 brings a big increase in efficiency -- by way of the widest body available, improved crop flow, an increase in active threshing and separation areas, and a larger cleaning shoe.
"You gain your capacity in separation, threshing, in cleaning. The dual-rotor configuration will help with the separation, then the threshing, and then we have the world's largest cleaning shoot," Kramer says.
CAMERA, SATELLITE SYSTEM
Deere also featured a predictive feed rate innovation shown attached to an S700 model combine.
The system is able to adapt combine settings for field and crop conditions, and do it more quickly than a human.
It's a two-part process. The first involves a survey by a GPS satellite. That's complemented by forward-scanning cameras on top of the cab.
"We're leveraging satellite imagery to understand crop biomass, and we're using cameras to really help classify the crop condition," Kramer says. "Is it standing, or is it a down crop? If it's down, you need to slow down to make sure you're capturing that down grain. It will help the machine be proactive in its ground speed and adjustments."
The machine will then analyze the yield data through that section and learn to proactively adjust for those conditions better in the future.
Major Manufacturers Join Forces To Standardize Data:
In his perfect world, CLAAS CEO Thomas Böck says, farmers would just use all CLAAS equipment. His world isn't perfect, however, and the reality is many farms own and operate a rainbow of equipment.
The problem for those farmers is in an age of information, the data that equipment generates hasn't always
Böck helped introduce at Agritechnica a way to fix that annoying problem, a program called DataConnect that has already earned commitments from some of ag's biggest manufacturers to develop their information in a standard compatible format.
CLAAS, John Deere, CNH Industrial and 365FarmNet have banded together on the project.
"We are responding to a very normal situation, which is mixed fleets," says Deere's Georg Larscheid, integrated solutions implementation manager. "When you move a farm into digital agriculture using digital tools, of course, the farmer doesn't want that information only on one machine. If we don't give the farmer any solution, we're just frustrating him."
The solution is DataConnect. The spark of the idea for the agreement among companies primarily took hold at standardization meetings.
There were plenty of hurdles to overcome but mostly internal ones in each company and agreements between them, making sure this worked for everyone.
"Strategic negotiation took two years. The technical implementations took six weeks," Larscheid says. "The technologies used are somewhat similar. Maybe the definitions are a little different, and you have to align around that and the formats, but that's not hard."
It won't require any software updates on equipment. Rather, there will be an option to activate DataConnect. When the data is uploaded into the various companies' cloud systems, it will be formatted to work on any of the other participating companies' machines before the data is transferred back to the equipment.
The program should roll out for farmers in the summer of 2020.
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