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Robotic lettuce weeder headed to Midwest crops

Silicon Valley startup company Blue River Technology, Mountain View, CA, got a lot of press in 2013 when it unveiled a prototype robot that would go through fields of lettuce and ferret out the weakling heads, a process called “thinning.” Well, now it is in the news again.

The company recently received $10 million in funding, led by Data Collective Venture Capital, to bring these robots here to the Midwest to weed row crops like corn and soybeans.

The robot has a plant recognition system that visually characterizes each plant or weed and decides which one to keep. Blue River’s motto is that “every plant counts;” in other words, “the needs of each plant are measured and inputs are applied precisely in the required dosage” compared to the current model of “applying chemicals inefficiently across entire fields.”

As stated in a BusinessWire news release dated March 19, 2014:

“Blue River is leveraging three important trends: machine learning, data-driven agriculture and robotics,” said Matt Ocko, founding partner of Data Collective Venture Capital.“This approach has the potential to revolutionize how we produce food in the near future.”

In the same release, Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology, states:

“With our new funding, we’re looking to hire passionate engineers and scientists to help us advance the boundaries of computer vision, machine learning, robotics and agriculture in order to solve real-world problems.”

I interviewed Heraud when he worked at Trimble, and over the course of an hour he was able to concisely cover the stages of autonomous control and where agriculture is at along that timeline. At that time, swath control or “on/off section control was meeting up with variable-rate spraying and seeding, soon to lead to variable rate control by the row and ultimately, by the nozzle.

We didn’t even get to robotics, which goes to show just how fast ag technology is changing.

Now, five years later, a robot weeder is on the drawing board. Blue River’s robot is similar, in concept, to the "RowBot" in that each plant is treated individually. We told you about the RowBot in an article we published last month called “5 robots coming to a field near you.”

I guess now we can add one more robot to the list.

To learn more about Blue River Technology, visit or contact Blue River Technology via email at

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