Ep. 26: Discover John Deere’s Vision Guidance with Tracy Uhlman
Updated: May 20
I’m not always the most equipment-minded person. I love studying the data and analyzing each field’s story. However, when I saw the same topic popping up on my feed, I had to learn more.
Last summer, I saw several people I follow on social media talking about John Deere’s Vision System and and so, in Episode 26 of Precision Points, Tracy Uhlman breaks it down for us and how this tool can benefit growers. AutoTrac™ Vision and AutoTrac™ RowSense work in tandem to help keep your equipment out of the row, reducing damage and operator fatigue while also allowing you to go a little faster with accuracy.
What is John Deere AutoTrac™ Vision?
AutoTrac™ Vision is a front-mounted camera that is generally looking for crops six inches or taller. If it can distinguish green plant tissue from the color of your soil, it is able to keep the tires of your equipment between the rows.
“It works to help out in areas where we maybe got some planter or GPS drift or fields that may have been manually planted, where there might not be perfectly straight rows,” Tracy explained. “Or in situations where we have a field where we may not have the guidance lines from planting.”
Once the canopy is over 90%, the unit would then switch to RowSense. Also, if you run into trouble spots in your field – for example, drowned out areas or heavy weed pressure where the AutoTrac™ Vision camera cannot differentiate the crop vegetation from weeds – the system will automatically switch to RowSense until it regains a clear picture.
What is AutoTrac™ RowSense?
AutoTrac™ RowSense is a paddle sensor mounted on the front wheel of your sprayer. In a way, it is the fall-back system for the cameras. The paddles sense the stalk and prevent the wheels from going over them.
What are the benefits of this system?
One of the biggest benefits to AutoTrac™ is reducing operator fatigue. In the seat of the spray cab, operators are making so many decisions and monitoring so many moving pieces. John Deere did research and found that, in a traditional system, operators are looking straight ahead 82% of the time they are driving – not giving them much time to look at everything going on around them. By implementing the Vision System, that time looking forward was reduced to 70% giving more time to identify potential issues and pay closer attention to their rig and application.
“The other big benefit is that, if you think about driving, if you've got a field where you've got 36,000 corn plants for example, and you're running at 15 miles an hour for every second that you're offline, you can potentially run over 90 plants,” stated Tracy. “And that's a lot of damage, so we're trying to minimize that.”
What do you need to run John Deere’s Vision System?
The Vision System works with GS3 2630, Gen 4 4640 with the V2 server and the 4640 Universal Display. Tracy encouraged anyone interested in checking it out to reach out to their local John Deere retailer for specific requirements for their operation.
Have you used John Deere’s Guidance Systems? Leave a review here.
Host: Morgan Seger
Guest: Tracy Uhlman
Morgan Seger (01:17):
Welcome back to Precision Points, an Ag Tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger, And in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased Ag Tech information and ideas.
Morgan Seger (01:29):
And I'm excited today because we are going to be talking about equipment. We've been spending a lot of time talking about research and data and more software applications. So switching here to some hardware and technology that we can be putting on some of our equipment.
Morgan Seger (01:46):
So I'm going to be chatting with Tracy Uhlman from John Deere and what we focus on is the vision system. So talking about AutoTrac™ Vision and AutoTrac™ RowSense.
Morgan Seger (01:57):
Now this is an episode I've been wanting to do for a while, because last summer on Twitter, I saw a lot of people talking about John Deere's Vision guidance, and I wanted to learn more. So today, Tracy unpacks what that technology is for us and how growers can use it if they are interested in getting started. So here's my conversation with Tracy.
Morgan Seger (02:17):
Well, welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show, I am joined by Tracy Uhlman from John Deere. Tracy, welcome to the show.
Tracy Uhlman (02:26):
Hi Morgan. Thanks for having me.
Morgan Seger (02:28):
Yes, of course. I'm so excited to talk about the work that you are doing at John Deere today. Would you mind taking a couple of minutes to just kick us off and let the audience know a little bit about your background and the work that you're doing?
Tracy Uhlman (02:39):
Sure. I have been with Deere for about 18 years now and I work out of our Intelligent Solutions Group in Urbandale Iowa, which is really where we do a lot of the work on the Precision Ag Technology and all of the components that come along with that.
Tracy Uhlman (02:55):
So in that office, I work on marketing for the embedded side of the Precision Ag business, which is really displays, receivers and some of the different components like we're going to talk about here today.
Morgan Seger (03:08):
Awesome. I feel like there's obviously constant innovation and improvement in that division, but you also have some pieces that have really stood the test of time and are table stakes for a lot of people's operation. One thing though, I heard a lot of growers talking about this summer was the vision system. And it's something that I actually don't know much about. So I was hoping you could maybe shed a little light on what that is and how it works for growers.
Tracy Uhlman (03:35):
Sure. So I'd be happy to take some time and talk about that. So we have two products that work in tandem, and those are AutoTrac™ Vision, which you just mentioned and also AutoTrac™ RowSense. And those two systems work together to help out in areas where we maybe got some planter or GPS drift or fields that may have been manually planted, where there might not be perfectly straight rows, or in situations where we have a field where we may not have the guidance lines from planting. So if you think about an Ag Service Provider or somebody coming in to do custom spraying, custom harvest, if you don't know where those rows are, it can be tricky to take some of that stress out and let you make sure your machine is operating appropriately. If you're completely focused on not doing crop damage and keeping your machine where you want it.
Morgan Seger (04:26):
Yeah, sure. So with the Vision guidance, it's basically a camera on the planter from what I've seen from the videos, at what point can it start detecting the crop?
Tracy Uhlman (04:37):
So the camera can be mounted in a couple of different places depending where it is, or what piece of machinery it's on. So generally it's on the machine. So the tractor or the sprayer for the Vision side and what it needs to do, it's generally looking for crops six inches or taller where it can distinguish the crop from the field and the ground. So if it can see the green and distinguish that it can operate just fine.
Tracy Uhlman (05:02):
And it's looking for canopy up to 90%. So once we get that canopy closed above 90%, that's where that other system I was talking about RowSense, that can come into play there because its got feelers in it. So we've moved from camera to a feeler system now, and it can sense where that stalk is as it's moving through the field to help you keep on your guidance line and to make sure that your machine is not on top of your crop row, but between it.
Morgan Seger (05:33):
Okay, sure. So the RowSense is basically little paddles that hit each stalk where the AutoTrac™ Vision is the camera. So what happens if you're in a situation where there's just not much of a crop, like it was a wet area or say weeds get out of hand and it's very green?
Tracy Uhlman (05:50):
That is such a great question. I'm glad you asked that because the system will give priority first to Vision. And if it can distinguish between the field and where the ground is, you're good to go. If the system starts to lose any kind of confidence, because you're in that weed patch or you have a wet area where they might not even be standing crop, it will go back to RowSense, If there are not stocks there that it can run off of. It'll go right back to GPS.
Tracy Uhlman (06:17):
And this is happening very quickly to keep you on your line. So it will go Vision then to RowSense if you have it. So that might be on your sprayer and possibly on your combine where you wouldn't be using Vision. But it'll start optimizing the system to keep you where it needs to be, but it wants to operate with confidence. So if it doesn't feel like it's doing a good job with one of those options, it goes to the next one. And as soon as it starts to distinguish where that row is, again, it'll go right back up to Vision.
Morgan Seger (06:49):
Nice. So it doesn't even take a manual switch, it does it on the go.
Tracy Uhlman (06:52):
Yeah, they can go right on the go.
Morgan Seger (06:54):
Nice. I feel like when you are an operator in a rig, there are so many things to be thinking about. So what types of benefits have you seen from operators implementing the vision system on their equipment?
Tracy Uhlman (07:10):
So some of the big ones are, when you're driving a sprayer and you're running at 15 or higher miles an hour, there is a lot going on. Especially if you have some of the bigger boom widths of 120, 132 feet, there is a lot going on.
Tracy Uhlman (07:27):
And we actually did some testing to see where operators were looking when they were in the cab. And they were spending 82% of the time looking straight ahead and driving, which means there's not a whole lot of time to look at what else is happening, what the sprayer is doing.
Tracy Uhlman (07:43):
And when we put Vision and RowSense into those sprayers and one or the other, you cannot run them at the same time. So you're either operating with Vision or RowSense. But with either of those systems in play that dropped down to 70%, which gave them a lot more time to pay attention to what else is going on in that machine. So that's a big one.
Tracy Uhlman (08:02):
The other big benefit Morgan, is that if you think about driving, if you've got a field where you've got 36,000 corn plants for example, and you're running at 15 miles an hour for every second that you're offline, you can potentially run over 90 plants.
Tracy Uhlman (08:18):
And that's a lot of damage. So we're trying to minimize that. And these two systems help again, keep you between those crop rows and where you want to be. So we can try to minimize as much damage as possible.
Morgan Seger (08:31):
Yeah. I can see that. I had no idea that it would be that many and that's average populations and average speed. I can definitely see it doing a lot of damage. And then, as soon as some of the other alarms start going off or you have a plugged nozzle or something, my gut would be to look away and-
Tracy Uhlman (08:48):
Exactly. Your attention gets diverted quickly. And if you're not running with some guidance, it's super fast to get offline.
Morgan Seger (08:56):
Yeah, for sure. So does it matter what row spacing the crop is planted in?
Tracy Uhlman (09:02):
Yes. It works with corn, cotton and soybeans. So typical spacings for those are pretty well accommodated, but really the optimal range is 20 to 40 inches.
Morgan Seger (09:20):
Okay. So that would cover most people unless they're going-
Tracy Uhlman (09:23):
If you've got 15 inch rows, you're on the narrow side of that comfort band.
Morgan Seger (09:28):
Gotcha. Are there any equipment requirements? So if someone's listening and they're like, "Oh man, that sounds awesome." What would they have to have first before they could attach this to their equipment?
Tracy Uhlman (09:39):
Sure. I definitely recommend that you go and visit with your local John Deere dealer first and foremost, because they have probably got a pretty good understanding of what you have in your operation and what technology and stuff that you already are using. So they would be able to figure out what needs to be added in addition.
Tracy Uhlman (09:57):
But for somebody that's starting from square one, there are three displays that you can run with, the GS 3 2630 or two of our Gen Four Family of displays work. And those are the Gen 4 4640 with the V2 server. And there is a requirement because it's got a lot of processing power that it has to help accommodate these systems. And the other is the 4640 Universal Display.
Tracy Uhlman (10:21):
In addition to display, they need to have either a factory installed or a retrofit vision kit, the harness and connector and AutoTrac™, and RowSense activation and a one to four video harness.
Tracy Uhlman (10:33):
So that's a lot to remember and on sprayers, it's even a little bit more where they would have a controller kit and a vision camera, the RowSense kit and appropriate activations. So again, I would highly recommend that you take a look and go visit your local dealer and they can help you make sure that you get the right stuff lined up.
Morgan Seger (10:54):
Okay, perfect. I'm taking some notes here and we can link up to some of that in the show notes, but definitely meet with your local guy, because they know what you have, like you were saying, it's always the best first step.
Morgan Seger (11:05):
So is there anything else about this vision system that you think our listeners would like to know about?
Tracy Uhlman (11:11):
Yes. I think it brings a lot of value to growers. It can help offset a lot of things that can happen in a field. As much as we want to have a perfect planting season, I know we've not had a perfect planting season on our farm, we've gotten close.
Tracy Uhlman (11:28):
But there's always something that happens, whether that's a wet spot or we have had a tile line break, but generally we have something that causes a shift in our plans. And we definitely have a lot of topography that we're contending with, and so do most growers. I would say there's some area where they've got, a terrace or some hillside and things can drift.
Tracy Uhlman (11:51):
Any of those situations can really benefit from a system like this. I think too, there's a whole nother aspect of this with people that are coming in to do custom work that may not have access to those planting lines. And if you can think about using a system like this, it takes a lot of the guesswork out and allows you to operate as optimally as possible and help keep your ground speeds up while also giving you the freedom to manage what else is happening in your machine.
Morgan Seger (12:20):
Yeah. As you're talking about that, I can just imagine the fatigue actually, train a machine through those lines and you don't have the guidance set up already. And then plus you're able to go a little faster because your eyes are on all of the things you should keep your eyes on. So I can definitely see lots of benefits.
Tracy Uhlman (12:37):
Yeah. And there's another one too, if you think about harvest and I know big portions of the Midwest were hit with torrential this year, and where you have some of that crop that got severely tangled up and maybe bent over in different directions than where your crop row was, having a system in there that can help keep your combine on the line too is really helpful.
Morgan Seger (13:00):
Yep. I can see that for sure, because you don't want to leave anything out there if you don't have to. So coming from John Deere, it's just an iconic brand and it seems like you guys are always innovating and bringing new technology to growers. Can you take a couple minutes to explain to our listeners what innovation looks like at John Deere? How do you decide what's going to be valuable to bring out?
Tracy Uhlman (13:23):
Yeah, I would say that with John Deere, we started innovating from day one. If you think about what the company was based on and founded on, it was that self scouring plow. So John Deere has been solidly committed to innovation since that time. And we have been continuing that work in solving customer problems through technology.
Tracy Uhlman (13:44):
So I would say there's a lot of opportunity out there for us to continue listening to our dealers and customers about what they need. And we will continue to work on looking for solutions that help them make their operation run as smoothly and as easily as possible.
Morgan Seger (14:01):
Yep. Just listening, that's the biggest thing. Because lots of times there's problems that we don't know exist until somebody tells us about them.
Tracy Uhlman (14:09):
That's exactly right. Lots of listening.
Morgan Seger (14:12):
Good. Well, I appreciate that approach and the work you guys are doing. If someone is interested in learning more about the vision system or any of the technology, where would you recommend they go?
Tracy Uhlman (14:24):
I would definitely start with your local dealer, but then we do have resources as well for you to look at on, johndeere.com. And we also have a John Deere YouTube channel that has some good resources out there, but our best partner is our John Deere local dealers. So I would highly recommend visiting them.
Morgan Seger (14:42):
Yep. For sure. I know for me, I want to make sure I'm asking for the right thing. When I go into the dealer when we need stuff for our prime store, I hit up the YouTube channel first and then I go in and talk to the local rep.
Morgan Seger (14:54):
So one last question that we like to ask our guests is if there's any one technology it can be in or outside of agriculture that you're most excited about?
Tracy Uhlman (15:04):
I am excited about a lot of things, but something that we just launched that's brand new to the market is AutoPath. And AutoPath is awesome. It is totally new to the market, there's nothing else like it.
Tracy Uhlman (15:18):
It is basically capturing your data from your planter or your strip till rig to create a guidance plan for the entire season. So you can use those same guidance lines of exactly where your crop row is in spring and in harvest and it's awesome.
Tracy Uhlman (15:36):
It works with different machine widths too. So if you have a mixed fleet, I know we do, so our header and our planter aren't the same size and it still allows me to put those machine inputs in there and automatically generate a guidance plan for an entire field. And it's fast, it's super easy, it works really well for new and experienced operators and it takes a lot of stress out.
Tracy Uhlman (16:00):
Kind of like AutoTrac™ RowSense and Vision. It helps minimize crop damage throughout the rest of the year. So I think AutoPath is really cool. That was just launched back in November of this year. So I'm very excited about that.
Morgan Seger (16:14):
Awesome. I actually was just reading one of the press releases that was sent out about it. Do you know how this would fit into the vision system? Is it going to fall into that default schedule it has, if there's an issue?
Tracy Uhlman (16:30):
That's a good question. I do not have an answer for you on that one. So I'll have to find out, but you can use AutoPath and RowSense together. So you can put the feelers into this equation. And again, if it loses confidence in anything for any reason, it's got the row feelers in there too, to help make sure you're off those crop rows.
Tracy Uhlman (16:49):
I will have to get back to you on that other one, because I don't know what the default is. I won't make any assumptions.
Morgan Seger (16:56):
Well, we won’t have you make assumptions on here... I could definitely see if you have that set up that being first in line and then defaulting down to the other more manual self.
Tracy Uhlman (17:06):
I will find out for you though. That's a great question. And I haven't had that one yet.
Morgan Seger (17:11):
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. And I look forward to watching the vision system in action this season.
Tracy Uhlman (17:20):
Thank you so much, Morgan.
Morgan Seger (17:23):
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Precision Points. As we were wrapping up our conversation there, there is a question that Tracy wanted to follow up with and she let me know that we discussed how RowSense will shift to GPS guidance lines if it loses confidence. Well, when the system has both AutoPath and RowSense, the system would shift from RowSense to the AutoPath guidance lines, which are what's based off of the precise crop row. So it's a very solid solution and both work together to keep the equipment between crop rows.
Morgan Seger (17:52):
I'm excited that we were finally able to catch up on this vision guidance and the system that John Deere has put together. If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, reach out to your local John Deere retailer. And if you've used it in the past, I encourage you to go to precisionagreviews.com and leave a review.
Morgan Seger (18:10):
On our website, you'll see lots of grower sourced reviews, and you can also spend some time looking through our expert advice on our blog. Until next time, this has been Precision Points, let's grow together.
Speaker 2 (18:23):
Thanks for tuning in to today's episode. To hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review and subscribe to Precision Points. Visit precisionagreviews.com for show notes from this episode, and read expert advice on the blog. Share your experience with the Precision Ag products you use and check out our network of farmer reviews. Let's grow together.
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Guest: Tracy Uhlman
Tracy Uhlman is a proud Iowa corn and soybean farmer. He has an undergraduate degree in Ag Technology and Management from Washington State University and an MBA from the University of Iowa. Tracy has been with John Deere for more than 18 years. He previously was a part of Deere’s Customer and Product Support, Global Training and Portfolio Management teams – to name a few! – and is currently the Go-To-Market Manager for Embedded Technology.