John Deere Spent 305M on Robot Farming Firm
With its latest acquisition, Deere & Company wants to prove old heavy-equipment manufacturers can still learn new tricks.The John Deere brand owner this week announced plans to purchase robotics firm Blue River Technology for $305 million.Blue River’s growing portfolio includes high-tech agricultural spraying equipment, dubbed “See & Spray,” which enables farmers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present.See & Spray for cotton weeding (via Blue River Technology)Using artificially intelligent tools, growers can scan fields, assess crops, and exterminate weeds in one fell swoop.A set of cameras fixed to crop sprayers use deep learning algorithms to identify various types of greenery; the machine automatically knows to shower weeds with herbicide and squirt fertilizer or fungicide on plants as needed.“We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field,” Blue River CEO Jorge Heraud said in a statement.The multi-million-dollar transaction is expected to close this month; once the ink dries, the 60-person Blue River team will remain in Sunnyvale, Calif., where it has been operating since 2011.“John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers,” John May, president of agricultural solutions and chief information officer, said in a statement. “Machine learning is an important capability for Deere’s future.”LettuceBot for precision lettuce thinning (via Blue River Technology)Despite working on autonomous tractors for two decades, Deere & Company hasn’t yet reached the same level of success as industry giants like Google and Tesla. Even its most advanced vehicles, which use the proprietary AutoTrac guidance system, can only assist with navigation, and require a human in the cab.There is no telling what Deere will accomplish with the help of Blue River; neither company revealed its exact plans for the future. But whatever it is will surely benefit the growing agricultural robotics sector, expected to reach $16.3 billion by 2020.