John Deere takes on robot tractor makers with Bear Flag Robotics buyout

It is obviously no coincidence that not long after CNH claimed a big slice of perceived robot tractor leadership John Deere has joined the charge

John Deere takes over Bear Flag Robotics for US305 who up until now simply offered a conversion kit to make existing tractors autonomous – photo: Bear Flag Robotics

For its major foray into autonomous tractor territory, it has cost John Deere US$250 million to buy out Bear Flag Robotics, a fledging Silicon Valley based start-up only founded in 2017.

And for now, it looks like John Deere has left behind its own electric cable aberration and battery driven electric single-axle auto tractor for what the Bear Flag alternative promises.

Through the Bear Flag Robotics’ technology, John Deere sees a much quicker path to accelerate its on-farm autonomous technology.

But there will be a lot of work to do. For now, the Bear Flag body of progress sits with its work to develop autonomous operator technology for existing machines, an aftermarket option.

However, this foothold is what John Deere has been craving and has not found in its more recent expensive buyouts of similar fledging outfits.

In 2017 it cost John Deere US$ 305 million to buy out Blue River, what was thought to be an advanced robotics company, but this failed to realise an advancement for Deere’s autonomous ambitions.

Unfazed, then in 2019 for several more millions Deere established an exclusive agreement with Netherlands based company Precision Makers. Already a perceived specialist in autonomous technology for a number of farm equipment badges.

From 2017 until now, none of the cash splashes and internal engineering efforts has produced a viable John Deere autonomous tractor for sale to the market.

But then again, Deere has not outlayed anywhere near the US$2.1 billion that CNH paid to take over the OMNiPOWER platform (formerly DOT) from Raven Industries in June 2021.

With John Deere’s takeover of Bear Flag Robotics will we get to see more of Deere’s single axle autonomous electric drive tractor of the future that could pack a 500kW (680hp) on-board power source

And neither has any other of the majors made progress in this autonomous, no onboard operator, sphere.

The most advanced autonomous tractor in the marketplace comes from Yanmar. But then it is only available in their home market, Japan.

Yanmar though, as a small player when compared with the majors, does in fact have the best technology. This is held in its signal transmission, Yanmar’s secret for now, and a tough nut for any of the others to crack.

Only a few tractor manufacturers can actually offer an autonomous tractor.

Apart from Yanmar, there are limited home market offerings from Kubota and Escort owned Farmtrac, while another big name Silicon Valley start-up Monarch tractors appears to be gathering investor funds in excess of its standing in the industry and far greater than the company could possibly earn over the next five years

. As to the John Deere Deere buyout of Bear Flag, Deere engineers will only be working with results Bear flag has gleaned from a limited number of farms in the US where its autonomous solution has been tested.