John Deere has bought Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million in a move that sees it bolster its already strong fleet of autonomous farming robots, a press release reveals. The Silicon Valley-based Bear Flag Robotics was founded in 2017 with the goal of developing autonomous driving technology for tractors and other farm machinery.
The deal “will accelerate the delivery of solutions to farmers that address the immense challenge of feeding a growing world,” said Jahmy Hindman, Chief Technology Officer at John Deere.
Bear Flag Robotics’ founding mission statement was to use automation to decrease the cost of growing food in order to increase global food production. It does this with self-driving tractors that have 360-degree real-time video feeds, meaning operators can take over at the click of a button if they see anything go wrong.
The Bear Flag team now working under the John Deere name includes experts in autonomous robotics, sensor fusion, vision, and data. They will continue to work from their offices in Silicon Valley while collaborating closely with John Deere.
Cross-pollination of farming and autonomy industries
“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.
Prior to the acquisition, John Deere has worked with Bear Flag since 2019 as part of its Startup Collaborator program. John Deere has increasingly been shifting towards autonomous farming technology in recent months and years. The same year that John Deere started working with Bear Flag it also struck a deal with eVTOL firm Volocopter to build an autonomous crop dusting drone.
John Deere is one of the world leaders in a growing industry of autonomous farming technologies. Earlier this year, Carbon Robotics unveiled an autonomous robot that uses laser beams to kill weeds. A “hands-free farm” project is also under development in Australia, which would constitute the country’s first fully autonomous farm.
Though some fear that robots may take over a huge amount of human jobs, the World Economic Forum states that automation will actually create 97 million jobs in the coming years. It may just be that farmers will have to get used to operating from behind a screen rather than from the wheel of a tractor.