Iconic agricultural manufacturer John Deere has acquired Silicon Valley-based start-up Bear Flag Robotics for $250m (£180m). The US machinery giant, which was founded in 1837 and is best-known for making tractors, said the acquisition will help accelerate the development and delivery of automation and autonomy on the farm, supporting John Deere’s long-term strategy to create smarter machines with advanced technology to support individual customer needs.
Founded in 2017, Bear Flag Robotics develops autonomous driving technology that is compatible with existing machines. John Deere first started working with Bear Flag in 2019 as part of its Startup Collaborator program, an initiative focused on enhancing work with startup companies whose technology could add value for John Deere customers. Since then, Bear Flag has successfully deployed its autonomous solution on a limited number of farms in the US.
The deal is the second agricultural robotics acquisition by John Deere in the past four years. The firm acquired Blue River Technology in 2017 for $305m (£220m). The Bear Flag purchase expands on John Deere’s presence in the Bay Area, where both Blue River and John Deere Labs — which focusses the development of greater automation and robotics — are located.
Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer at John Deere, said: “Deere views autonomy as an important step forward in enabling farmers to leverage their resources strategically to feed the world.
“Bear Flag’s team of talented agriculture professionals, engineers and technologists have a proven ability to deliver advanced technology solutions to market.
“Joining that 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.”
The Bear Flag Robotics team consists of agriculture professionals, engineers and technologists focussed on autonomy, sensor fusion, vision, data, software and hardware. The firm will remain in Silicon Valley where they will work with John Deere to accelerate innovation and autonomy for their farmer customers.
Igino Cafiero, co-founder and CEO of Bear Flag Robotics, said the start-up’s mission is to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food.
“One of the biggest challenges farmers face today is the availability of skilled labor to execute time-sensitive operations that impact farming outcomes,” he said.
“Autonomy offers a safe and productive alternative to address that challenge head on.”
*All images courtesy of John Deere