Bear Flag Robotics raised $7.9 million in seed funding in January 2021. That funding has quickly become chump change. The Calif.-based developer of autonomous driving technology for tractors is being acquired by John Deere for $250 million. John Deere said in a statement that the deal accelerates the development of farm automation.
Founded in 2017, Bear Flag Robotics retrofits its autonomy stack onto existing tractors. It uses cameras, LiDAR and radar technology for redundant, 360-degree situational awareness on a farm. The tractors can either be bought or rented under a robotics as a service (RaaS) agreement in which it charges per acre.
“Deere views autonomy as an important step forward in enabling farmers to leverage their resources strategically to feed the world and create more sustainable and profitable operations,” said Jahmy Hindman, CTO at John Deere. “Bear Flag’s team of talented agriculture professionals, engineers and technologists have a proven ability to deliver advanced technology solutions to market. Joining that expertise and 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 will remain in Silicon Valley where it will work closely with John Deere. While Bear Flag’s technology enables tractors to run autonomously, human supervisors use software to monitor and command the fleet from a remote mission control room or personal device. The software plans optimal field patterns based on growers’ implements, and provides predictive and post-run analytics.
“Deere and Bear Flag are highly complementary from both a technology and mission perspective,” said Dan Leibfried, director of automation and autonomy at John Deere. “We look forward to working even closer together with the ultimate goal of helping farmers achieve the best possible outcomes through advanced technology like autonomy.”
John Deere first started working with Bear Flag in 2019 as part of its Startup Collaborator program, which is 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 U.S.
“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. “Bear Flag’s mission to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food through machine automation is aligned with Deere’s and we’re excited to join the Deere team to bring autonomy to more farms.”
This is the second agricultural robotics acquisition by John Deere in the past four years. It acquired Blue River Technology in 2017 for $305 million. The acquisition of Bear Flag expands upon Deere’s presence in the Bay Area, where both Blue River and John Deere Labs are located.
In other recent agricultural robotics news, Abundant Robotics, a Hayward, Calif.-based startup founded in 2016, shut down in June. According to a memo about Abundant’s liquidation obtained by The Robot Report, the company “was unable to develop the market traction necessary to support its business during the pandemic.”
Editor’s Note: This article was first published by sister publication The Robot Report.