Consumer tech is at an inflection point right now, with slowing growth in developed markets and economic depressions pulling emerging markets back when it comes to investment and usage. Into that vacuum, at CES this year, major industrial company John Deere has put itself front and center to launch its latest tech and to make the case for why an agriculture and construction business is a good fit for a consumer electronics show.
Today the company announced ExactShot, a new sensor and robotics-based system for applying fertilizer, and a new electric excavator. The idea with both is to speed up repetitive processes while making them more efficient and less wasteful.
"Why should you care about farmers when they represent less than 2% of the U.S. population?" asked John May, the CEO of John Deere, speaking at a keynote today at CES. His answer: because food production is exactly where tech is actually proving its relevance and making a difference. "You will not find two industries that have a larger impact on our world, and all of us, than agriculture, and construction."
One of the big criticisms of the world of agri-business has been that it's not sustainable, especially as the need for producing food for a growing global population continues to rise unabated. With the global population projected to rise to 10 billion by 2050 from 8 billion today, food production on arable land will grow by 60%-70%. The pitch with ExactShot is that it will help farmers be economically and environmentally sustainable as they do this. Using sensors, ExactShot identifies where seeds are planted and sprays fertilizer only in those precise locations. Deere believes that this could reduce fertilizer use by 93 million gallons annually, which in turn will mean weed growth will also go down (thus needing less chemicals to control those) and less water to grow.
The excavator, meanwhile, is powered by a Kreisel battery and is aimed at reducing noise, emissions and daily operating costs for excavating machinery, reduced job-site noise and enhanced machine reliability.
John Deere "leverages a vast tech stack," May said, "to give our machines superhuman capabilities." That is turning into significant business for the company. The company has sold some 500,000 connected machines, and these currently are used across more than one-third of the Earth's surface, he said.
"You might want to think of them as robots that precisely execute jobs," he said, with the construction and farming equipment featuring integrated displays with embedded software and analytics, GPS hardware, machine learning and computer vision, and powered by cloud computing connectivity. Jumping on the self-driving bandwagon, the company last year debuted an autonomous tractor at the show, but "these tractors aren't concept vehicles," May added. "They're real and are being used on farms today. If this sounds like a lot of technology, it is."