John Deere doubles Silicon Valley and robots

We have a lot It’s about bringing Silicon Valley-style innovation to the heart of America. But when Heartland needs technology, it still comes to Silicon Valley.

On Thursday, John Deere announced that it would acquire Bare Flag Robotics, a Silicon Valley startup that manufactures fully autonomous tractors for farms, for $ 250 million.

Bear Flag modifies a regular tractor with the sensors, control system, computer, and communication system needed to operate autonomously. The company’s technology allows lonely farmers to remotely monitor the fleet of robotic tractors plowing fields.

George Kantor, a roboticist who specializes in the use of robots in agriculture at Carnegie Mellon University, said: He adds that autonomous tractors are especially important because machines are used in so many different areas of agriculture.

While some tractors can already autonomously follow GPS-guided paths, Bear Flag technology completely eliminates people from the tractor’s cab. The company has borrowed development and commoditized innovations throughout the self-driving car industry. Use lidar and computer vision to not only navigate, but also analyze the soil behind the tractor.

“We use AI to predict failures and analyze sensor inputs that can see beyond what humans can see,” said Aubrey Donnellan, co-founder and COO of Bear Flag Robotics. Stated.

The acquisition is the latest sign that John Deere, founded in 1837, sees automation, robotics and artificial intelligence as key elements for the future of agriculture. Equipment makers paid $ 305 million in September 2017 to acquire Blue River Technology, another Silicon Valley company that manufactured intelligent weeding robots.

“For engineers interested in self-driving car development and robotics, this is a very rapidly evolving field,” said Daniel Livefried, director of autonomous and intelligent solutions at John Deere.

Machines have long been used in agriculture, but advances in AI and robotics have made it possible to automate processes in new ways, and the industry is seeing a surge in new applications for automation. Many experts predict that more automation will be needed to meet the growing demand for food and labor shortages and mitigate the environmental damage associated with more intensive agriculture.

On some farms, drones autonomously analyze crops to estimate yields and signs of illness. An ever-growing catalog of robots can perform more complex farming tasks in the field, including machines capable of harvesting crops, removing weeds, and milking livestock. Start-ups such as Iron Ox and Bowery are developing greenhouses that use sensors, robotics, and AI to optimize food production.

Some simple tasks are still out of the reach of robots. For example, choosing grapes and tomatoes can be an easy (and low-paying) task for humans, but it is very difficult for robots to learn.

“Ultimately, there will be robots that do that,” says Canter. “And it needs to be towed or integrated into the type of autonomous tractor that Bear Flag manufactures.”

Revenues from agricultural robots are expected to grow 19% annually to $ 16.6 billion between 2018 and 2026, according to analyst firm Research Drive.

Increased agricultural automation can impact employment. Agriculture still accounts for about 2.6 million US jobs, according to figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture in October 2020.

However, Ali Mogimi, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who teaches “precision agriculture,” said robotics and AI are slower in agriculture than in other industries due to the complexity and cyclical nature of agriculture. It is said that it is likely to be adopted. However, he believes that automation is inevitable because it not only improves productivity, but also helps limit damage to the environment by automatically detecting, for example, overuse of nitrogen fertilizer. ..

“Recent advances in AI will be game changers,” says Moghimi. “This is the way we have to go down.”

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John Deere doubles Silicon Valley and robots

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