John Deere Buys Bear Flag Robotics to Expand Farm Automation

Deere adds autonomous driving startup to John Deere Labs and Blue River Technology in Silicon Valley.

John Deere

John Deere said its Bear Flag acquisition will accelerate autonomous technology on the farm.
Bear Flag Robotics, which has been working with Deere on autonomous driving enhancements for farm equipment, will join Blue River Technologies and John Deere Labs in Silicon Valley

Deere & Co. yesterday said it has agreed to acquire Bear Flag Robotics Inc. for $250 million (U.S.). Moline, Ill.-based Deere said the deal will support its farm automation and autonomy strategy.  

“Deere views autonomy as an important step forward in enabling farmers to leverage their resources strategically to feed the world and create more sustainable and profitable operations,” stated Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer of John Deere. “Bear Flag’s team of talented agriculture professionals, engineers, and technologists have a proven ability to deliver advanced technology solutions to market.”

“Joining that expertise and experience with Deere’s expertise in autonomy, along with our world-class dealer channel, will accelerate the delivery of solutions to farmers that address the immense challenge of feeding a growing world,” he said.

Founded in 2017, Bear Flag Robotics is developing autonomous driving technology compatible with existing machines. The Newark, Calif.-based startup said its mission is to increase global agricultural production while decreasing the cost of growing food through automation. Bear Flag added that its technology can increase safety, reliability, and profitability on farms. 

Bear Flag shares agricultural mission

John Deere first started working with Bear Flag Robotics in 2019 as part of its Startup Collaborator program, an initiative focused on enhancing work with companies whose technology could add value for Deere customers. Since then, Bear Flag has successfully deployed its system on a limited number of farms in the U.S.

“One of the biggest challenges farmers face today is the availability of skilled labor to execute time-sensitive operations that impact farming outcomes,” said Igino Cafiero, co-founder and CEO of Bear Flag Robotics. “Autonomy offers a safe and productive alternative to address that challenge head-on.”

“Bear Flag’s mission to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food through machine automation is aligned with Deere’s, and we’re excited to join the Deere team to bring autonomy to more farms,” he added.

The company said its team is focused on autonomy, sensor fusion, vision, data, software, and hardware. Bear Flag said will remain in Silicon Valley, where it will work closely with Deere to accelerate innovation and autonomy for customers across the world.

“Deere and Bear Flag are highly complementary from both a technology and mission perspective,” said Dan Leibfried, director of automation and autonomy at Deere. “We look forward to working even closer together with the ultimate goal of helping farmers achieve the best possible outcomes through advanced technology like autonomy.”

Deere invests in growing farm automation

Deere said it has been working on vehicle automation for more than 20 years and claimed to be a world leader in using artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) to build the smart farm of the future. The company also serves the construction and infrastructure industries.

In 2017, Deere acquired Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue River Technology for $305 million. Blue River's “see and spray” robot uses computer vision to recognize plants, and it sprays herbicide on weeds and fertilizer on crops with similar precision to inkjet printers. This precise targeting can reduce chemical usage by more than 90%, resulting in cost savings to the farmer and fewer harmful chemicals in the soil, said the business.

In cotton, Blue River said its robots can radically reduce the amount of herbicide needed to defeat resistant weeds while improving yields. With lettuce, the robots determine how to best allocate resources to grow lettuce and autonomously thins the crop to maximize yield.

Deere noted that its acquisition Bear Flag expands its presence in Silicon Valley, where Blue River and John Deere Labs are located.

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John Deere

John Deere said its Bear Flag acquisition will accelerate autonomous technology on the farm.

Robot Technologies