This month John Deere confirmed that it was ploughing $305m (�226m) into the purchase of Blue River Technology, a company responsible for creating various data-driven solutions that help to improve the precision of agricultural machinery.
One of the main areas in which Blue River Technology has made breakthroughs is in the deployment of herbicides. Its software can optimise the spraying process and ensure that only problem areas are targeted, rather than requiring that farmers take a blanket approach to fighting weeds.
At the core of this system are algorithms that enable improvements to be made automatically over time without the need for human intervention or reprogramming. John Deere is keen to increase its commitment to machine learning solutions such as this and has confirmed its intentions to make its tractors, harvesters and other farm machinery smarter as a result, according to AgriLand.
Blue River Technology spokesperson Jorge Heraud explained that by making it possible to deploy machinery in a more precise way, farmers could both save money and improve productivity. This will also prevent waste and reduce environmental damage, which are both appealing advantages.
Almost two decades ago, John Deere snapped up emerging GPS firm NavCom in a move that enabled the manufacturing company to forge ahead of its rivals and deploy satellite-based navigation to help its products to work more efficiently. Now that it has added another company to its stable, it should be able to repeat the same trick going forwards.
Autonomous farm machinery:
There is little doubt that this acquisition will assist in the creation of truly autonomous farm machinery in the near future. While rivals such as Case IH have been plugging away to build their own self-driving tractors, John Deere clearly has the financial clout and the will to invest in technologies that will make it competitive in its own right once this market segment gathers momentum.
Precision and automation go hand in hand, enhancing the abilities of operators and eventually making them redundant. This was further proven last month when a Russian software and robotics developer called Cognitive Technologies unveiled its own self-steering combine adaptation, which it touted as a precursor to a fully-autonomous machine.
As with John Deere's focus on machine learning, this model can use a single camera in combination with a neural network, using pseudo-artificial intelligence to accurately guide the harvester across a field and detect when a task has been completed.
There was also news recently of New Holland's trials involving driverless tractors taking place in parts of Europe and the US. A combination of GPS navigation and on-board sensors enable autonomous operations to last for as long as 18 hours without the need for a break, which is a clear step forwards in terms of raw productivity.
As the battle to bring autonomous agricultural machinery to the market is heating up, with major investments being made by many manufacturers, the cost of adoption for farmers should be driven down by the time a commercial launch occurs.