Autonomous vehicles may shortly be on the horizon after all. Not on public roads, mind you, but in a field nearby. John Deere has announced the purchase of an AI package from Light, a startup that specializes in algorithms for self-driving vehicles. With that, the autonomous farm suddenly comes closer.

The automation of John Deere’s tractors can bring many benefits to farmers. For starters, there’s enormous time to be saved by autonomously driving instead of sitting in the driver’s seat all day. In addition, an autonomous tractor drives much more accurately and quickly than a tractor operated by a person. This could produce a better harvest.

Investment in autonomous tractors

John Deere has been investing in artificial intelligence (AI) for some time. With the purchase of Light’s package, things are speeding up. The package consists of algorithms that analyse camera images and determine how the vehicle should drive. The package allows the company to roll out AI much faster than if it were to develop algorithms itself.

Light’s technology and algorithms work based on standard cameras, whose images are analysed in real-time. It doesn’t use Lidar, a radar technology that is much more expensive. One advantage is that the package required for a tractor is reasonably affordable.

Another big advantage is that the vehicles operate on private property, not on public roads. There are far fewer things to consider, including road users and complicated traffic situations. This should allow John Deere to deploy the package quickly. John Deere will have to add its own artificial intelligence to allow the tractor to recognize the field and its crops. This allows the fields to be tilled correctly.

John Deere’s ultimate goal is a fully automated farm, where farmers can focus on the tasks that truly require their expertise. Driving around a field can be automated just fine.

Tip: Intel’s Mobileye intends to go public at a valuation of over €45B