Driverless cars have long been the subject of futuristic sci-fi movies and, more recently, the “next big thing” in tech. Just last week, Google received a wave of press for expanding the testing of its self-driving vehicles to Austin, Texas, and hopes that the technology will be ready for the masses by 2020. Other big players like BMW, Tesla and Mercedes have also entered the driverless race.
Leaders in the industrial sector only chuckle at this “visionary” news, however. Companies like John Deere have been selling tractors that drive themselves for over a decade in more than 100 countries around the world. While John Deere claims to be the largest operator of autonomous vehicles, other manufacturers like Autonomous Tractor Corporation, Case IH and Fendt also offer self-driving farming equipment.
So how do these tractors work? Using GPS-based technology, driverless tractors can perfect a route down to the inch, reducing overlap by 90 percent to save time, resources and money. While they still require a driver behind the wheel in case of emergency, the machine’s ability to self-steer and follow pre-programmed routes frees up a farmer’s time to focus on other business operations — or their paper airplane skills.
Compared to the consumer industry, agriculture offers a low-risk environment for driverless vehicles, which may explain its current success. A hundred-acre field is less prone to accidents than a highway at rush hour. Self-driving technology is taking off in the mining and oil operations industries for similar reasons.
Google may want to take note. The use of these autonomous vehicles in the industrial sector could serve as inspiration for carmakers aiming to bring self-driving cars onto public streets. As Cory Reed, VP of John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, told The Washington Post: “All of the things we’re doing on the farm will find their way into the consumer market in the coming years.”
Want more? Look out for other emerging driverless technologies from our ongoing Futuristic Fleet series.