John Deere, an American blacksmith, founded the company in 1837. At the time, John Deere was offering self-scouring steel plows and only entered the tractor industry in 1906. By acquiring Dain All-Wheel Drive, the first company to produce a tractor, John Deere became the pioneer in agricultural vehicles worldwide. The company revolutionized farm work early on and continuously developed and refined its vehicles. Nowadays, the American corporation supplies not only agricultural but also construction- and forestry machinery, diesel engines, drivetrains and lawn care equipment. What sets John Deere apart, is that the integration of its developed software became even more innovative than the hardware itself.
Computer Vision as farmersâ€™ augmented eyes
Over the years, John Deere has brought countless innovations to market and was an early player in using state of the art technology to enhance its product-offering. The companyâ€™s long presence in the agricultural industry has also lead to important insights into consumer behaviour. In combination, these two key elements form the basis of the companyâ€™s success story.
In 2013 John Deere introduced AI-powered Farm Forward Vision. This campaign pursued the goal of automating farm-life by bringing autonomous, self-driving tractors and machines to the market. It allowed the farmers to remotely manage their machinery from a central control hub, where they would receive data points from a console in real-time. In 2019, John Deere released a newer version of Farm Forward Vision, where leaps in learning and technology were brought up to date.
In 2017, John Deere acquired Silicon Valley based machine learning start-up Blue River, which specializes in computer vision. This Acquisition provided the foundation for the multinational giant to enter the AI space.
As a lot of farmers-work is visual; (how do the plants-, the grounds- look and are there any bugs?), computer vision can add value to a farmers daily work. Before, the farmer himself acted as the primary sensor for the decision making process. However, with the ability to understand what it sees and to react to different circumstances, computer vision revolutionized the farming industry.
Some of John Deereâ€™s innovative products & structures:
See & Spray pesticide and herbicide distribution systems (launched 2021)
This product involves using smart cameras, equipped with computer vision and the ability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy crops. Attached to machinery, which passes through the fields of crops, this distribution system completely changed the execution of pesticide usage. Before the farmer differentiated between healthy and unhealthy fields of crops. As a field only had to be partly infested, a lot of healthy crops were sprayed as well. John Deereâ€™s new technology identifies unhealthy crops and allows targeted chemical treatment which results in a 80-90 % reduction of pesticide use.
Combine Advisor System
The Combine Advisor System increases efficiency of crop harvesting and ensures zero wastage. Again the product is built on computer vision. Cameras, attached to the combine harvesters, monitor images of grains, while they are picked up and elevated into the tank. In a next step, a deep neural network analyses the quality of the grain and modifies the operating parameters on the go, if any grains are getting damaged by the current operating setting. In a last step, cameras examine and analyse the detritus such as stalks, cobs and leaves, which are ejected from the rear to become fertilizer. This process ensures that no grains are thrown out, following its zero waste policy.
JD Labs â€“ Collaborator
To remain in a leading market- and technology- position in the industry, John Deere collaborates closely with start-ups. The JD-Labs program allows the company to learn from fast moving and agile structures of new companies. For example, start-ups are able to trial and develop innovative technologies, which the agricultural giant, due to its size would not be able to do. Overall, it is a symbiotic partnership, as the young companies benefit from agricultural expertise and mentorship, while they continuously work on new technologies to enhance JDâ€™s existing product offering.
As a GICS classified â€˜â€™Industrialsâ€™â€™ â€“ â€˜â€™Machineryâ€™â€™ -company, John Deere clearly leverages tech to strive for and effectively implement first class machine learning and computer vision technology. These examples show how a company outside the traditional â€˜â€™Tech-Sectorâ€™â€™ creates value and a competitive advantage by harnessing and implementing technology.