John Deere has acquired patents and intellectual property from artificial intelligence startup Light, according to The Robot Report. The article says Deere also hired some of Light’s employees.
Jorge Heraud, John Deere’s vice president of automation and autonomy, and Willy Pell, vice president of autonomy and new ventures at Blue River Technology (acquired by Deere in 2017), told The Next Web that the acquisition will accelerate the development and deployment of Deere’s artificial intelligence technology while allowing machinery to move faster and safely without human interference.
Light specializes in depth perception technology and creating technology with human-like vision. Its camera-based Clarity platform sees 3-D objects from 10 centimeters to more than 1,000 meters and uses signal processing to build a 3-D view of the surrounding environment.
The Robot Report says Deere will integrate Light’s Clarity platform into its autonomous tractors. Deere appears to be using a vision-only approach to autonomy, rather than LiDAR, an industry standard that uses lasers to measure ranges and generate precise 3-D information about objects. In an interview forThe Robot Report Podcast, Pell said dust was a major reason why Deere chose not to use LiDAR.
“They just don’t perform as well in dust,” Pell said. “Another reason is that LiDARs have moving parts, and we operate in really rugged environments. And the other reason is that we’re actually just not going that fast. We’re going 10 miles per hour, and we don’t have to see 90 meters ahead of us. We need to see 20 meters ahead of us. So we ended up with stereo cameras.”
Those stereo cameras guide Deere’s autonomous 8R tractor revealed in January and expected to hit fields in time for fall tillage operations. The Next Web predicts Light’s technology for such cameras will allow Deere’s machines to sense at speeds and resolutions that suit customer needs while compensating for vibration as machinery runs over uneven terrain.
Heraud told The Next Web that Deere expects the acquisition to start paying dividends for Deere customers within the next few months. He says the company eventually intends to achieve higher speeds with its current autonomy systems and to include more vehicles.
The Light deal is the most recent in Deere’s autonomous endeavors. In April, Deere formed a joint venture with GUSS Automation, a company that produces semi-autonomous orchard and vineyard sprayers, and acquired autonomous driving startup Bear Flag Robotics in 2021.
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