Deere to acquire machine-learning farming robot company Blue River for $305m

The acquisition will enable the agricultural equipment giant to use Blue River's technology on its own products.

Deere & Co has announced that is acquiring the maker of LettuceBot, Blue River Technology, to increase its machine learning capabilities across farm equipment.

Deere said it is paying $305 million to acquire the Sunnyvale, California-based agtech company, which uses computer vision, robotics, and machine learning for agricultural spraying and weeding equipment, such as its lettuce farming robot.

The LettuceBot, which is towed by a human-driven tractor, is able to identify plants in need of fertiliser, pesticides, or other "inputs" used to manage crops, and take action.

Blue River said that LettuceBot covers 10 percent of the United States lettuce crop, with the machine capable of handling 1 million plants per hour.

The agtech company claims results are a 5 to 10 percent increase in yield, as well as up to 90 percent reduction in the amount of chemicals used on farms. Blue River also said LettuceBot enables the use of non-GMO seeds and chemicals that were previously too expensive for broad use.

John May, CIO at Deere, said he is "confident" that Blue River's technology can be used in the future on a wider range of products.

Deere, established in 1837, already sells technology that uses GPS to automate tractor movements across a field to sub-inch accuracy. The company believes Blue River's robots, which affix to tractors, can deliver a higher degree of automation to farmers when combined with its own technology.

The agricultural equipment giant also sells environmental sensors that monitor "air and soil temperature, wind speed, humidity, solar radiation, rainfall, and leaf wetness" and sends the data over a wireless connection for farmers to see on a dashboard. The data then allows farmers to identify when crops are reaching optimum moisture levels and make timely irrigation decisions.

Blue River, which has about 60 employees, will continue to operate as an independent brand.

The deal is expected to close this month.

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