John Deere’s Robot Gator – Part 1 - revolutionary change

This button has changed robotic history: Full-Auto. John Deere Robot-Gator, the R-Gator, is now in LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production), which means they are rolling off the assembly line. See more photos.


Manual-Auto Switch on the dashboard of a John Deere R-Gator changes the history of robotics. This button changes the history of robotics: The close-up picture [right] shows the Manual/Autonomous operation selector switch on the R-Gator dashboard. Many of us have been waiting a long time to see such a button. For me to see “Full-Auto” available on the dashboard of a production vehicle is both a thrill and a disappointment. The thrill is that it has finally arrived; the disappointment is that it has taken so long to happened and happened so quietly. This is, in fact, revolutionary.

It is going to change how things are done from now on.

The John Deere Robot-Gator, the R-Gator, is now in LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production), which means they are rolling off the assembly line. There is no federal stock number yet for the R-Gator. Any government agency that wants to buy R-Gators simply need to specify “John Deere R-Gator” on their purchase order, how many they want, and what options they would like to have installed on them.

John Deere Robot Gators are now serving with U.S. armed forces.

John Deere has been developing autonomous vehicles for 20 years and has gathered significant feedback from front line users. The R-Gator was first introduced about one year ago and has been steadily improved.

What does this life saving technology cost?

“What the price is for large unmanned robotic vehicles is a good question because all of the customers so far have wanted the vehicles customized to fit their individual missions," said Mark Bodwell, worldwide military affairs group manager for John Deere. "An example of that would be integration of payloads to our software, additional sensors, or additional cameras (some cameras can be in the 6-figure range by themselves). Some customers want more autonomy and some want less, such as a remote control only without full autonomy. Therefore, the answer to the question of price is that 'it depends' on what the customer wants and how we can meet their needs fully. Depending on what is requested the price can go up or down significantly,” Bodwell said.

Mark Bodwell – worldwide military affairs group manager for John DeereWhen a utility vehicle has to operate in all of the places the John Deere R-Gator goes, terrain capabilities are key.  With this is mind, the John Deere team has refined the chassis of its popular autonomous vehicle to give the go-anywhere R-Gator a four wheel independent suspension, improved 11-in. ground clearance, and a faster top speed of 35 mph.

“Since we’re always looking to improve our products, we’ve been running R-Gator exercises with soldiers and marines," Bodwell said. "Through those exercises," he explained, "we’ve come to appreciate just how important it is to be able to navigate hilly or rough terrain quickly. The improved R-Gator was developed in direct response to the military feedback we received.”

John Deere R-Gator 4 x 4 has a full autonomous mode, as the R  in its name implies.The changes have improved mobility and given it superior fording capabilities.  Based on the proven M-Gator military vehicle platform, the R-Gator employs commercial off-the-shelf technology [see sensors in the housing atop the roll bar] and includes precision guidance, navigation, and obstacle avoidance technology that has been at work for two decades in John Deere’s agricultural products. The R-Gator can be operated in manual, tele-operational or fully autonomous mode during day or night and supports military personnel through lightening the load, persistent stare, cargo carrying, point-man reconnaissance, roving patrols, resupply, casualty evacuation and more.

“John Deere has a long history of supporting the U.S. military.  We’re proud to do so and we’re committed to providing the products and features our servicemen and women need and request.  The R-Gator is just one more example of that commitment,” Bodwell said.

Watch for more of my interview with Mark Bodwell in the following parts of the R-Gator story along with updates on how the TC Tinkers 4-H Robot Club is doing as it enters its second 4-H year. The kids have a $3,000 business loan to repay, a dozen high tech projects that they are working on and a new crop of adult Volunteers willing to teach them the things they need to learn to earn the 12 technology medals that 4-H offers. This is going to be an interesting year and you can follow the action here.

Also read:

On Track with Machine Vision

WesTrack/AGVs; The Bomb; The Club

DARPA Urban Challenge: the race to save lives


Paul F. Grayson - Chief Engineer


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