Tractor giant John Deere just spent $305 million to acquire a startup that makes robots capable of identifying unwanted plants, and shooting them with deadly, high-precision squirts of herbicide.  The company recently acquired Blue River Technology, founded in 2011.

Deere already sells technology that uses GPS to automate the movements of farm vehicles across a field to sub-inch accuracy. John Stone, an executive in the company’s intelligent-solutions group, says Blue River’s computer-vision technology will help Deere’s equipment view and understand the crops it is working with. “Taking care of each individual plant unlocks a lot of economic value for farmers,” Stone says.

The startup’s robots are towed behind a regular tractor like conventional spraying equipment. But they have cameras on board that use machine-learning software to distinguish between crops and weeds, and automated sprayers to target unwanted plants.

Blue River see and spray robotic vision implement pulled behind tractor in field.
Blue River See and Spray technology (Image Source: http://smartmachines.bluerivertechnology.com/)

The company says its first product, LettuceBot, already has a hand in roughly 10 percent of US lettuce production. It is used on fields with young lettuce plants, targeting weeds as well as plants that are too small, or growing on top of one another.

>> Read more by Tom Simonite, Wired, 09/0/17

Why John Deere Just Spent $305 Million on a Lettuce-Farming Robot