Here’s how John Deere’s electric robots can plant 6,600 seeds in 3 seconds

Agricultural giant John Deere’s new tech, ExactShot, enables farmers to use electric robots to plant and fertilize seeds at an incredibly fast and precise pace.

I’m at the John Deere Tech Summit in Austin, and Nancy Post, VP of embedded software and solutions, talked us through ExactShot, which is planting and fertilizing technology that gets hooked up to John Deere tractors and is all about precision, speed, and volume.

John Deere’s speakers are all emphasizing the need to “do more with less.” They assert that with the global population expected to grow from 8 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, farmers need to increase production by 60-70% on today’s arable land.

So, citing labor shortages and tight growing time windows, the 186-year-old company is hot on output and automation. John Deere’s folks acknowledge that climate change is making agriculture even more challenging, so efficient and sustainable agriculture for both small and large farmers is only going to help.

The cycle of planting is as follows: clear the path, create a trench, place the seed, place the fertilizer, and close the trench. ExactShot is made up of 54 56v modular electrified robots and sensors that register when each individual seed is going into the soil. As this occurs, a robot will spray only the amount of fertilizer needed, about 0.2 ML, directly onto the seed at the exact moment it goes into the ground.

ExactShot is all about smart tech: The farmer inputs the dosing parameters, and it measures speed and operational conditions. The system pressure is calculated from dose, travel speed, and the nozzle’s inputs. The seed is sensed, and the spray on time delay is calculated based on row travel speed, belt speed, and spray velocity.

Post explained that ExactShot is able to plant an incredible 6,600 seeds in three seconds. Its vacuum system pulls the seeds in, and the travel speed of the vehicle and the brush creates a dead drop with extreme placement accuracy so that the seeds go exactly where they’re supposed to. That way, plants have a better chance of emerging and growing at the same rate.

Post also noted that seed placement needs to be just right – not too deep or shallow, not too close or far apart – and the robots help achieve that.

ExactShot also sprays starter fertilizer precisely onto seeds as they are planted, rather than spraying a continuous flow of fertilizer to the entire row. That allows farmers to reduce the amount of starter fertilizer used by more than 60%, and it also decreases the amount of fertilizer running off the field into a waterway.

Farmers are able to look at the geospatial data and make every pass through the field smarter. When someone asked what happens if any of the planting or fertilizing steps fail, Post explained that ExactShot has real-time fault detection. And if there’s a malfunction, the electrified smart system is modular enough so that individual robots and parts can be replaced.

Todd Westerfeld, a fifth-generation Texas farmer who plants wheat, soybeans, corn, and cotton on 5,500 acres with only three people in total, said to us that being able to access the data that equipment like ExactShot provides is invaluable. He said about his “love/hate” relationship with John Deere: “My livelihood relies on their ability to help me solve a problem, and data gives us the best shot in an imperfect environment.”

Photos: John Deere

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