John Deere on Making Construction Sites Safer, Applied Intelligence Live! Austin 2023

Emerging technology and precision tech is also making them smarter and more sustainable

Berenice Baker, Editor, Enter Quantum

September 20, 2023

4 Min Read
Andrew Kahler, technology solutions manager at John Deere’s worldwide construction and forestry division, speaks at Applied Intelligence Live! Austin
Berenice Baker

John Deere is best known for its agricultural equipment and has in recent years set about transforming the industry with innovative technology. It is now applying the lessons it learned in fields across the world to make construction sites safer, smarter and more sustainable while shifting dirt to a very high degree of precision.

Speaking on the keynote stage at Applied Intelligence Live! Austin, Andrew Kahler, technology solutions manager at John Deere’s worldwide construction and forestry division, began by demonstrating advanced situational awareness tools for construction vehicles powered by image recognition. 

“It’s really easy for operators not to be at their very peak of situational awareness throughout the day,” he said. “This is a tool in the toolbox that they can use to help improve their confidence and be more aware of what's around them on the job site. A lot of work went into making sure that this detection of people is reliable in the morning and evening day at night on snow and rain and fog, with backgrounds of rock or sand or, even when it's snowing outside.”

Image recognition technology can identify an object at any point within 360 degrees of the truck and alerts the operator with an audible alert, which draws their attention to the monitor so they can quickly identify if there's a person nearby. This leverages technology that originated from the agriculture side of the business and could even help plug the shortage of construction workers in the industry.  

Related:John Deere Takes High-Tech Farming to the Next Level

“We know that we don't have enough people in the construction industry to do the work that needs to be done, and to make things worse, about 25% of the people in the construction industry today are going to be retiring in five to seven years so it's probably going to get worse,” said Kahler. 

“We do everything we can to make these machines as easy to operate and make the task easier for them to execute. You could take somebody that's a novice to our industry, put them on tractors with our technology and make them very productive a lot more quickly than previously in the market.”

One of the most important tasks in construction is preparing the ground to be level to a high level of precision but enabling correct drainage.

“It's what we call sculpting the dirt or gradient and it's using our grade-control system called SmartGrade,” said  Kahler. “This SmartGrade system has Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers that are Real-time kinematic positioning  (RTK) corrective, either locally or through a network. It also uses inertial measurement units and several robotics technologies to enable the precision and control of a blade that’s responsible for setting the grade or moving the dirt on the job site.”

Related:John Deere One Step Closer to Fully Autonomous Farming

Kahler said the technology delivers a precision of 1.2 inches, or about the size of a golf ball, which has historically been difficult even for experienced operators. Automating this process with SmartGrade enables operators to do an effective job more quickly and gets people new to the industry sculpting land much more quickly. 

Automation also provides John Deere with data, collected with permission, it can use to improve customer experience, especially through dealerships. 

“Say you have a fleet of 255 machines, but it looks like 10 of these machines only have 10% utilization in the last two months, you want to know what's going on with those machines. Should we maybe redeploy those machines? Or is it time to turn over those assets and invest in something that might be more useful? Those types of insights are really valuable for customers to use for themselves and also valuable for dealers to support customers,” said Kahler.

John Deere puts solving its customers’ problems at the heart of its business. According to Kahler, the first, second and third biggest problems in construction are “labor, labor and labor exacerbated by the fact much of the workforce is likely to retire in the short term.

“A number of our contractors have told us they would love to grow their business and take on more work but I can’t find the people to do the jobs in the center of the organization,” he said. “We, our customers and the industry are recruiting anywhere and everywhere that we can to get more people interested in coming into the construction industry. We're also doing everything we can to enable our customers to get more done, automating difficult tasks, trying to improve productivity wherever possible.” 

The other other problem is there is a  lot of wasted rework happening on construction sites. 

“Several studies suggest that as much as 30% of the time, energy and expense that are being deployed on civil construction sites are nothing more than rework. A lot of changes have to happen to make the work as accurate as needed,” said Kahler.

“Anything we can do to chip away at that helps solve that problem helps. To do that, we need to make our workforce more capable and more technology savvy.”

About the Author(s)

Berenice Baker

Editor, Enter Quantum

Berenice is the editor of Enter Quantum, the companion website and exclusive content outlet for The Quantum Computing Summit. Enter Quantum informs quantum computing decision-makers and solutions creators with timely information, business applications and best practice to enable them to adopt the most effective quantum computing solution for their businesses. Berenice has a background in IT and 16 years’ experience as a technology journalist.

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