John Deere pays $380m for farmbot start-up

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John Deere pays $380m for farmbot start-up
The LettuceBot. Credit: Blue River Technology

Plans fully automated farm machinery.

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.

“Lettuce seeds are planted at a higher rate than required to ensure that enough plants emerge to make a uniform stand, but after they emerge, the extra plants need to be thinned in order for healthy lettuce to grow,” the company says.

A second bot is currently being tested for copper weeding; it similarly uses computer vision to recognise and remove weeds.

John Deere hopes to take Blue River’s technology and apply it to a broader range of agricultural scenarios.

In particular, it wants to get farmers using technology to make decisions not just at a “field and sub-field level”, but at an individual plant level.

It also wants to introduce greater degrees of automation: the company laid out goals today to “build machines that can sense, decide, act and learn” and “make adjustments without human intervention”.

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