Hold on to your hats! Autonomous farming is on the way.
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John Deere Autonomous Tractor
Credit: Courtesy of John Deere

Imagine a 14-ton tractor plowing the earth at midnight. You peek into the cabin looking for a tired farmer behind the wheel, only to find that there's no one there. That's the reality possible with John Deere's line of self-driving tractors set to debut this fall. 

The centuries-old company has been leading the way in farming innovation since 1837, launching its first two tractors in 1918. Now, they're breaking ground again with the world's first fully autonomous tractors.

"You fast forward a century from those first tractors and you'll find some of the most advanced robotic machines are being used on the farm to feed the world," Jahmy Hindman, Chief Technology Officer at John Deere, said in a release. "If you visit a farm, you'll see as much technology in the field as you will in Silicon Valley."

The introduction of self-driving cars has been in the works for the past decade, and many modern vehicles utilize versions of the technology through features like lane assist and auto parallel parking. Despite the advances, obstacles like tall buildings and tunnels that cause interruptions in GPS data, as well as complications caused by other vehicles and pedestrians, have kept self-driving cars largely off the road.  

On the other hand, tractors used on rural farmland don't have to contend with any of those disruptions. John Deere's autonomous tractors use GPS guides, real-time data streams, location-sensing technology, and 360-degree cameras to assist farmers in working their land any time of day or night.  

John Deere Autonomous Tractor
Credit: Courtesy of John Deere

"You aren't going to see a crosswalk in most cornfields in Iowa or Nebraska," John Deere Production Director Joel Dawson, told AP News

The tractors could allow farmers to become much more efficient in production and complete their planting, fertilizing, and harvesting during peak times when soil and air temperatures are ideal for farming. This could result in more bountiful crop harvests and increased profits. 

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John Deere has yet to announce a price for the tractors, but company spokesperson Ben Haber told AP News that the technology used on the tractors sells for around $500,000. The company plans to test the new self-driving tractors on 10 to 50 farms this fall before bringing it mainstream.