John Deere, established in 1837 to manufacture hand tools, announced it had acquired Blue River Technology, founded in 2011, late Wednesday. John Stone, an executive in the company's intelligent-solutions group, says Blue River's computer-vision technology will help Deere's equipment view and understand the crops it is working with. Stone says that Blue River's technology can make a larger impact on productivity because it makes decisions up close, on the ground. That system can target weeds with squirts of herbicide no larger than a postage stamp.
Automated farming equipment has perhaps never been a hotter topic than right now. Adding fuel to the fire, farm equipment giant John Deere had a big splash at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV. Last year was a tough act to follow. In 2019, it exhibited its machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled S-Series combine. This year, Deere brought out the big guns with its R4038 sprayer.
Data is shaping almost every area of our lives. There are now hundreds of companies offering everything from farm management and precision tools to bots and drones. Some tractors have computing power that would have turned Nasa's moon-landing mission green with envy. What started in farm equipment is moving into the field – at least in the developed world. More and more data is available as farmers use sensors for soil sampling and mobile apps, cameras and drones to monitor pests and diseases.
Driscoll's is so secretive about its robotic strawberry picker it won't let photographers within telephoto range of it. But if you do get a peek, you won't see anything humanoid or space-aged. AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO -- a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries. Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops. Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.
Farm equipment maker John Deere is banking on machine learning to change the way crops are grown, stumping up US$305 million (A$380 million) for a start-up in the space. Deere said it would "fully acquire" Blue River Technology but allow the 60-person company to remain in California "with an objective to continue its rapid growth and innovation with the same entrepreneurial spirit that has led to its success". The buyout is expected to close in September. Blue River Technology makes two "bots" armed with computer vision and machine learning that can be towed by a traditional tractor. The LettuceBot is used to recognise and remove unwanted lettuce seedlings in order to maximise the crop.