John Deere has announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the Silicon Valley-based startup Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million. Bear Flag Robotics develops autonomous driving technology which can be integrated into existing machinery.
According to John Deere, the acquisition will help accelerate its development and deployment of autonomous agricultural equipment. The company says in its press release announcing the acquisition that it is part of John Deere’s long-term strategy to create smarter machines using advanced technology like automation in an effort to improve customer productivity.
Deere began working with Bear Flag in 2019 through its Startup Collaborator program, which helped Bear Flag deploy autonomous solutions on a small number of farms in the U.S.
John Deere has also been working on autonomous solutions for agricultural equipment for several years now. This includes automating various machine functions in equipment available today to help ease the workload for customers, as well as research into fully autonomous machines. In 2019, the company unveiled its autonomous tractor concept—which is electric powered as well; electrification is another technology are of focus for the company.
The concept tractor can be fitted with wheels or tracks and features ballasting from 5-15 tonnes. John Deere has also developed an autonomous sprayer concept which it says is lighter in weight than conventional self-propelled sprayers. The autonomous sprayer has a 560 L spray tank, ground clearance of 1.9 m (6.2 ft.), and is equipped with tracks to help minimise ground pressure and soil compaction.
“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,” said Jahmy Hindman, CTO at John Deere, in the company’s press release announcing the acquisition. “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.”
“One of the biggest challenges farmers face today is the availability of skilled labor to execute time-sensitive operations that impact farming outcomes. Autonomy offers a safe and productive alternative to address that challenge head on,” said Igino Cafiero, co-founder and CEO of Bear Flag Robotics, in the John Deere press release. “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.”
Bear Flag’s team is comprised of agriculture professionals, engineers and technologists focused on autonomy, sensor fusion, vision, data, software and hardware. John Deere says the team will remain in Silicon Valley and work closely with Deere on autonomy projects.
“Deere and Bear Flag are highly complementary from both a technology and mission perspective,” said Dan Leibfried, Director – Automation & 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.