Q&A with Dan Leibfried, Director, Automation & Autonomy, Intelligent Solutions Group at John Deere
BIG 5G Event: How can connectivity help to solve some of the key challenges on modern farming challenges?
Dan Leibfried: Farmers are required to make increasingly precise decisions at the plant level. However, to cover the thousands of acres of farmland and work within increasingly tight windows of time, large machines are required to navigate the field. Connectivity plays a pivotal role in enabling these large, smart machines guided by GPS and machine-to-machine communication to execute incredibly precise tasks at the application level. Not only does connectivity allow for macro-level geospatial awareness and navigation, but, importantly, it allows individual robotics and IoT technologies (individual nozzles, for example) to know where they are on the field to execute at the precision demanded at the plant level. Connectivity enables large machines to make smart, precise decisions that help farmers maximize yields, time, and resources.
Connectivity is also paving the way to a new form of spatial intelligence on the farm. Spatial intelligence melds historic data available via the cloud and near real-time information from sensors on machines to optimize decision making on the farm based on what the farmer already knows, what is happening right in front of them and what has happened previously. Connectivity, at speed and accuracy, is a core component of making the fusion of data and advanced technologies like AI, machine learning and computer vision a reality for the farmer – and turning information into actionable insights.
BIG 5G: How do you see 5G as unlocking the farm of the future?
DL: In the future, 5G connectivity will enable new machines that are autonomous and guided by advanced sensors and processing technologies that maximize the profitability of every plant at every step in the production cycle. 5G will be vital to the future of precision agriculture technology because it will allow machines to communicate with each other faster than ever before. It will bring real-time connectivity at less than a second versus the 30-second delay most of today’s connection speeds impose when connecting with the cloud. With this connection speed and the increasingly powerful onboard computing in the machines, catching and minimizing mistakes will happen faster and will be much more impactful.
Deere’s vision of where the 5G journey will lead includes more sensors in the field and having the ability to detect what you can’t today. It will also allow for more seamless communication of data and operations overall. The sky is the limit.
BIG 5G: What does 5G offer that previous generations of mobile connectivity could not?
DL: All of Deere’s large machines have a modem installed, just like in a smartphone. These machines make data-only, telematic phone calls through a cell tower, where data then gets sent back through the Internet and to the cloud, which is ultimately used to make more informed decisions to better production outcomes. However, this can only happen if there is a cell tower nearby. At Deere, we’re always advocating for network operators and regulators to provide connectivity and broadband in rural areas. Due to the world’s population growing at a rapid speed, we need to double the world’s current food supply. Precision agriculture is vital to improving efficiency and crop yields, but the technology can’t exist as effectively without the infrastructure to support it. Until 5G is fully developed and telecom companies and regulators catch up, we’re continuing to make advancements to farm technology.
We will one day get to a point where we have persistent connections all the time so that data is always immediately up to date. With this, we get faster feedback loops and perpetually connected environments, and it will allow us to potentially reduce current onboard processing. Ahead of that, we want to create a singular interface for farmers to interact with their entire autonomous farming system that gives a comprehensive view of all operations and the flexibility to manage anything on the farm from anywhere. 5G will allow the server connection to be instantaneous or at least enabled in places that previously had no connection. This will enable even higher levels of precision.
BIG 5G: Why did you decide to participate in The BIG 5G Event 2020? What are you most looking forward to?
DL: John Deere takes our role as advocating on behalf of our customers seriously and this opportunity to participate in The BIG 5G Event 2020 gives us another platform for advocacy. We know that innovators are attending this conference who want to solve some of the largest scale problems that the world has and closing the connectivity gap in rural areas is a critical enabler to the long-term success of precision agriculture. I am looking forward to these innovators coming out of the conference and deploying high quality and cost-effective solutions to connect the globe in a meaningful way.