Optimizing Farms with See & Spray - The Road to Autonomy

Optimizing Farms with See & Spray

Lee Redden, Chief Scientist & Co-Founder Blue River Technology and Chief Scientist of the Intelligent Solutions Group at John Deere joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss how See & Spray technology can help farmers optimize farms.

The conversation begins with talking about growing up in Nebraska and how having a shop at the back of his house would have a profound impact on his life.

We had a shop on the back of my house and I would spend 4 or 5 hours a day in the back of the shop just putting things together. I built a couple of go-karts, I built a car, I just have so many fond memories of just being back there welding something up, grinding something down, and building.

– Lee Redden

Lee’s hands-on experiences in the shed led to him enrolling at the University of Nebraska where he designed microcircuit boards for miniature surgical robots. During his time on campus, Lee watched a documentary about the DARPA Grand Challenge. Little did Lee know at the time, but the documentary would change his life.

One of the things growing up in Nebraska, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of computer science. What that documentary did was show that there was this computer science group that was basically taking a stock car and adding a couple of sensors to it, but not putting too many sensors on it.

Then it was a computer science problem and it really kind of paved and showed me the way for what was possible with computer science in an area that I thought was really cool and was cars and autonomy and I just saw that as like oh my gosh if you can make this car do things it couldn’t do before, it just becomes so much more useful. Totally game changing in the possibilities.

– Lee Redden

The documentary exposed Lee to the possibilities of machine learning, computer vision, and AI. Eventually, he enrolled at Stanford to learn computer vision.

I knew this is what I needed to do to really get up to speed to work in the field I wanted to.

– Lee Redden

At Stanford, the seeds were planted for the founding of Blue River Technology when Lee met his co-founder, Jorge Heraud. From autonomous lawnmowers to the autonomous weeding of carrots to the thinning of lettuce. Lee and Jorge kept pivoting until they had their breakthrough moment with high-precision weeding machines.

During the early days of See & Spray, farmers provided invaluable feedback on the system as it was rolled out to farms in the United States. With feedback from farmers in hand, Blue River began to test in different geographies to build the data sets that are required to fully optimize the system.

The diversity of data you have really matters.

– Lee Redden

In 2017, John Deere acquired Blue River Technology. Being part of John Deere is allowing Blue River to take a longer-term view on the development of the technology.

It has been really fantastic for the company to be able to have that longer-term view.

– Lee Redden

After the acquisition, Lee took a step back to focus on control systems.

We will see shifts in machine form and how machines are designed and put together based on control systems.

– Lee Redden

While control systems are next, Lee is still dedicated to See & Spray. With an estimated 250 species of herbicide-resistant weeds, uncontrolled weeds result in annual losses of approximately $43 billion in corn and soybean crops, Blue River is using their computer vision technology to identify the weeds to help farmers save money when they use the See & Spray system.

The See & Spray system reduces the number of herbicides used by 77%, having a positive economic impact on farms and a positive impact on the environment.

Higher precision and plant by plant care is a win, win, win situation.

– Lee Redden

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Lee discuss the global population growth and how automation on farms can help feed the growing global population.

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Recorded on Thursday, August 5, 2021