Deere & Company has made a new move into the world of unmanned technologies, forming a joint venture with GUSS Automation LLC based in Kingsburg, California, in the San Joaquin Valley.
GUSS, an acronym for Global Unmanned Spray System, currently sells a pair of unmanned machines to treat high-value crops such as vineyards and orchards.
GUSS Automation traces its roots trace back to 1982 and an agriculture spray business called Crinklaw Farm Services (CFS). Along the way, CFS developed multi-row vineyard sprayers, mechanical vineyard pruners, and the Tree-See orchard sprayer, designed for young orchards. CFS now sprays 5,000 acres a day during peak season in California.
GUSS Automation functions today as an individual business entity separate from CFS. It builds two machines, Orchard GUSS and Mini GUSS. Orchard GUSS is 24 feet long and 6 feet, 4 inches tall and come in two widths: 8-foot, 3-inches and 7-foot, 6-inches. Mini GUSS is 25% smaller, enabling it to move through high-density plantings of orchards, vineyards and berries. Its first units were delivered in 2019.
The Deere-GUSS joint venture focuses on specific California high-value crop systems. The joint venture will retain all GUSS technology, while Deere is gaining insight into GUSS technology. By that measure, this is an interesting tech move for Deere, which is currently rolling out commercial technologies for its row-crop customers. Deere will not be building the GUSS units, nor will GUSS technology be applied to Deere products. But access to the technology fits well with Deere’s “technology-enabled” product development work.
This year, for example, Deere has introduced its Autonomous 8R tractor and the See & Spray camera visualization system designed to control weeds and manage resistance. Deere’s $250 million purchase of Silicon Valley’s Bear Flag Robotics last fall brings into Deere a second technology approach to autonomy.
Deere’s autonomous 8R moves by way of stereo cameras. Bear Flag tractors are equipped with LiDAR and cameras, plus the computing power to manage the sensors and actuators that bring situational awareness to the tractors. LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging. It is a remote sensing method using light to measure distance and generate three-dimensional information. Bear Flag has deployed its autonomous solution onto U.S. farms.
GUSS Automation also uses LiDAR in combination with GPS in its vehicles. Vehicle sensors and software give GUSS vehicles continued ability to control speed and applications under orchard and vineyard canopies.
The Deere-GUSS joint venture will be collaborative.