Satellite Internet for Autonomy?

I was interested to read about the new partnership between John Deere and SpaceX to provide Starlink connectivity to John Deere machinery in the U.S. and Brazil.

On one level, it makes good sense – Starlink is already providing high-bandwidth connectivity for farmers across the U.S., so extending that to their farm equipment makes perfect sense.

In point of fact, we have been connecting customers’ machines to Starlink for several years – the AyrMesh system of stationary AyrMesh Hubs and mobile AyrMesh Cab Hubs can connect any Internet access – including Starlink – to your machines, regardless of what brand machines you use.

One of the stated goals of this effort is to better enable autonomy for John Deere’s equipment. This is a good idea for a single machine out in the field, as is currently the usual case in small grains, corn, and soybeans.

However, it’s easy to imagine a future in which multiple machines are working in the same field, in which they have to communicate with each other. If they have to communicate through the satellite, even though SpaceX’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites offer much lower latency than the older geosynchronous satellites, it’s much higher latency than a terrestrial solution. For minimum latency, of course, the key is to keep the data moving on the farm without moving it through the Internet at all, which is only possible using a high-speed, high-bandwidth Local Area Network (LAN). Using a solution like the AyrMesh network is the only way to keep that latency to a minimum.

My other critique of this is that it adds another subscription (for the Starlink terminal), adding to operational cost. I think this is an important advantage we bring to this: AyrMesh is a purchased system, so it helps growers keep operational costs at a minimum.

Criticism aside, I’m very encouraged that Deere is thinking much more seriously about the importance of having their machinery on the Internet, and using Starlink is a bold and intriguing way to accomplish it. As autonomous devices make their way into the mainstream of agriculture, we’ll be there to help make it practical and affordable.

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