Yep, that headline just happened…

Talk about an unconventional partnership producing an even more unconventional product. The legendary heavy equipment brand John Deere has teamed up with Designworks, a subsidiary of BMW, to create a hybrid backhoe built from futuristic materials and integrated high-tech features. It’s called the Fixstern, which in German means fixed star. Like navigating by the stars, the Fixstern will act as guidance and inspiration for John Deere’s future products.

The backhoe isn’t a reality just yet, but the concept is a test bed for out-of-the-box thinking. John Deere and Designworks set out with several goals: high functionality, reduce weight by 20 percent, decrease environmental impact by 10 percent, decrease manufacturing costs, improve the user experience, and to address changing market demands.

Meeting these expectations involves using lighter materials that are still extremely strong. The backhoe’s weight has been distributed lower along the extended wheelbase. Stabilizer bars on the front axle help with road-going stability and are rather rare on backhoes. Airless radial tires are said to further improve stability while being completely impervious to flats. The backhoe also features a “tuck” feature with its digging arm, giving it a shorter overall length for parking or on-road driving. The entire rear section, including the rear axle, is designed to pivot for tight maneuverability and is controlled by electronic four-wheel steering. Deere hasn’t divulged any details regarding that hybrid powertrain, however.

Deere also concentrated on making the operator happy. The cab is larger and its door is wider – both thanks to the longer wheelbase. The seat is also insulated from the backhoe’s frame for better vibration resistance. The in-dash tech includes communication with a fleet supervisor for preventative maintenance and the project supervisor for getting the construction job done right.

The Fixstern might not be pushing dirt anytime soon, but the ideas will likely evolve modern heavy equipment for the better.

Continue reading for more information.

Why It Matters

BMW and John Deere Tease Hybrid Backhoe Concept Exterior Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 710048

A futuristic backhoe might not be truck related, but the news goes to show just how technology is changing our world. Even humble construction equipment is getting hybrid powertrains, lightweight materials, and Internet connectivity. It’s amazing to see how times are progressing. It’s also because I’m a grown-up child who still fancies tractors, boats, cars, and airplanes.

This collaboration with John Deere isn’t Designworks’ first extra-automotive foray, either. The global company has projects ranging from in-ear headphone and cell phones to “adaptive” office furniture, public transportation, and motorcycle helmets with smart technology.

BMW and John Deere Tease Hybrid Backhoe Concept Exterior Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 710049

To quote Designworks’ website, it is “a creative consultancy working across multiple industries and focusing on mobility, product, and user experience design, as well as on strategic brand and design consulting.”

That helps explain the collaboration with John Deere. It will certainly be interesting to see what practical applications develop from this.

Press Release

John Deere and Designworks, a BMW Group subsidiary, are giving CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 attendees a first-hand look into the backhoe vision of the future. The result of a unique research and design process introduced to John Deere by Designworks called "Fixstern." The concept leverages emerging materials and technology innovations, such as a lightweight metal matrixed exoskeleton and a hybrid powertrain, to dramatically reconfigure the traditional backhoe machine form. The futuristic design is presented through unique augmented and virtual reality experiences at the John Deere booth and outside in the Tech Experience.

"We wanted to stretch and challenge ourselves to innovate in new ways, and what better platform to showcase this forward-thinking design than at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017," said Doug Meyer, global director of product engineering, John Deere Construction & Forestry. "We worked closely with our backhoe customers to apply their input to ensure the Fixstern solutions address future customer and industry needs in performance, efficiency and environmental compliance."

Meaning "fixed star" in German, "fixstern" is a term that BMW adopted for its holistic pioneering research and design process. As the name suggests, Fixstern results in a far-future vision or focal point that all stakeholders can share in common, align to and drive towards.

BMW and John Deere Tease Hybrid Backhoe Concept Exterior Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 710048

John Deere and Designworks established four goals on the project to highlight the key areas of advancement. This included designing a highly capable and robust future machine; reducing weight by a minimum of 20 percent and the machine’s environmental impact by a minimum of 10 percent, and lowering the cost to manufacture; elevating the user experience through user interaction and improved interior spaciousness; and addressing changing market demands through flexibility and versatility.

As a result, the visionary backhoe incorporates several compelling features and innovations. A hybrid powertrain delivers the right amount of machine power, efficiency and lightweighting without compromising productivity. It also enables a lower center of gravity and improves forward visibility. The machine form incorporates forward stabilizers, enabling an extended wheelbase with airless radial tires, which, in turn, improves transport stability and expands the operator station.

To elevate the user experience, John Deere and Designworks expanded the operator station with larger openings and fewer obstructions to improve ingress/egress, visibility and storage space. The isolation of seat and controls from a now-structural rollover protective structure (ROPS) greatly improves comfort and control while reducing vibration and noise. Electric four-wheel steering improves maneuverability in tight areas.

BMW and John Deere Tease Hybrid Backhoe Concept Exterior Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 710049

The backhoe itself is manufactured with intelligent, emerging, lightweight materials that help reduce dig component weight, which translates directly into increased payload. A combination of center-mount and side-shift capability delivers versatility, no matter what the application. The implementation of a "tuck" feature minimizes overall length for better on-road driving experience and a smaller parking footprint.

The Fixstern also boasts increased machine intelligence and connectivity with integrated augmented interfaces that enhance operation and real-time training, allow for increased communication between operator and project supervisor for efficiency and control, and incorporate predictive maintenance for decreased downtime and improved fleet management.

"Regardless of the industry, as we look to the future, we face more technological and digitalization challenges being balanced with a clean aesthetic appearance," said Oliver Heilmer, president of BMW Group subsidiary Designworks. "As a part of the BMW Group, we strongly believe that design leadership can help answer some of these challenges."

John Deere intends for the Fixstern Backhoe to have a "halo effect" in that many of the ideas and innovations may spread from backhoes across different machine forms.

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