SpaceX is collaborating with agricultural industry giant John Deere to provide satellite internet connectivity, enabling its tractors to operate autonomously and communicate with each other in rural areas.
The unlikely pairing announced an agreement on Tuesday to provide satellite internet to farmers, helping them connect new and existing machinery through SpaceX’s Starlink network.
In a post shared on X, SpaceX wrote, “Starlink is ideal for rural locations.” The company is hellbent on providing internet access to out-of-reach areas, whether on land, air, or sea. Through other partnerships, SpaceX is working with European satellite operator SES to connect cruise ships, as well as major airlines like Hawaiian Airlines and Qatar Airways to provide Wi-Fi on planes.
Hooking up tractors on farmland feels like the right move to complete this internet trifecta, I suppose. Although broadband connectivity and cellular infrastructure has been expanding in rural areas, not all farmers have easy access to the internet.
John Deere will use ruggedized user terminals, which will be installed on compatible tractors, along with a 4G LTE JDLink modem to connect to the John Deere Operations Center. By getting these tractors online, the company will be able to get them to operate autonomously, share data in real-time, send remote diagnostics, and enable enhanced self-repair solutions, as well as machine-to-machine communication, according to John Deere.
The company already has self-driving tractors that can knock out some chores on their own, but adding online connectivity to the agricultural machinery will allow farmers to monitor it in real-time and send commands if needed.
“The value of connectivity to farmers is broader than any single task or action. Connectivity unlocks vast opportunities that were previously limited or unavailable,” Aaron Wetzel, vice president of Production and Precision Ag Production Systems at John Deere, said in a statement. “For example, throughout the year, farmers must complete tasks within extremely short windows of time.”
This involves precise steps in production, getting machines to work together, and keeping an eye on how they’re doing, Wetzel said, adding that, with better connectivity, all these parts get a boost, making the whole operation smoother, more effective, and more profitable.
A 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlighted the importance of achieving connectivity in rural America in order to be able to adopt next-generation precision agriculture tools that have the potential of boosting production. On the other hand, modern agricultural tools may negatively impact the environment and potentially lead to the disappearance of smaller farms.
As a big-timer in the agricultural machinery industry, however, John Deere has been searching for a space industry partner over the past year or so. The company found its match with industry giant SpaceX, a match made in commercialization heaven.
The partnership with SpaceX will start to roll out internet connectivity during the second half of 2024.
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