John Deere spent $300 million on a company that murders weeds with AI

John Deere equipment will get a dose of AI.
John Deere equipment will get a dose of AI.
Image: AP Photo/Seth Perlman
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If you are a weed, we have some somber news.

John Deere, the farm equipment company that’s been chasing autonomous technology for more than 20 years, has agreed to buy Blue River Technology, a startup that uses AI to automatically identify and spray herbicide on weeds. The price of a 60-person farming AI startup? $305 million.

Blue River Technology makes a number of farm tools: an automatic precision weed-sprayer, a device that trims lettuce at scale, and software for drones to analyze crops. The company once considered using a Tesla coil to zap weeds, according to Willy Pell, Blue River’s director of new technology, which is objectively a cool idea.

John Deere’s tractors have a level of autonomy today—some can steer themselves via help from GPS signals, while image sensors can determine the quality of grain during harvesting. But the company says Blue River’s AI will allow future tractors to understand each individual plant in crops like lettuce and cotton, two areas Blue River has already showcased.

The acquisition underscores  the immense value placed on AI research and development companies in recent years. Twitter infamously paid $150 million for the 11-person Magic Pony Technology in 2016, and in a deal that’s looking more and more like a steal, Google bought the DeepMind research lab in 2014 for more than $500 million.