Moore's Lobby Podcast

Getting Out of the Weeds with John Deere’s Revolutionary AI Technology

Episode #66 / 55:43 / June 13, 2023 by Daniel Bogdanoff
Technical Sponsor: ROHM Semiconductor

Chris Padwick learned to code on a Commodore 64 as a farm kid in Saskatchewan. He now leads development of 300 teraflop AI/ML and computer vision solutions that are revolutionizing precision agriculture for Blue River Technology, a John Deere subsidiary.

Imagine 1500 laptops strapped to a 120 foot (36 m) wide sprayer being pulled behind a tractor. That gives you a rough understanding of the compute power inside the John Deere See & SprayTM that targets herbicide to the weeds, not the crops. These might be “the smartest agricultural machines in the world,” says Chris Padwick, Director of Computer Vision and Machine Learning at Blue River Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of John Deere. 

See & Spray precision agricultural spray solutions. Image used courtesy of John Deere

Padwick was not looking to return to his agricultural roots, but in a “shields down” moment” he was approached by a startup, Blue River Technology. He recalls being “completely blown away” by what they were doing in computer vision.

After initially developing a product for lettuce thinning, Blue River pivoted to the problem of row crop weeding. In the US alone, the agricultural industry uses over 20 million gallons of herbicide annually, almost all of it through broadcast spreading across the entire field. Blue River set to work on changing the paradigm to only spray the weeds. According to Padwick, this “dot matrix printer for weeds” has the potential to “save 15 million gallons of herbicide” and “about a billion dollars.” 

AI and machine learning allow targeted herbicide application. Image used courtesy of John Deere

In this episode of the Moore’s Lobby podcast, Padwick takes us behind the scenes to discuss the challenges of data collection in the fields, image classification, the compute technology that drives these real-time systems, and much more. On this business side, he reflects on the 2017 acquisition by John Deere and how important that was in their development of products at scale that can operate in rugged environments for two decades.

“I feel like we're going to look back on farming in five or ten years and we're just going to be amazed…Precision spot spraying is going to be the way that people treat their crops going forward because it's going to allow them to save so much more chemical. And the sustainability in the environment is kind of unparalleled. So I really feel we're kind of at that inflection point for agriculture.”

So, listen in on this fun interview as Padwick describes:

  • His graduate research into Big Bang cosmology and background radiation
  • Why he left engineering as an undergrad—seriously, universities we have to fix this outdated solution to engineering education!
  • Blue River’s global operations to collect crop and weed images to drive continuous improvement


A Big Thank You to Our Sponsors! 



Meet Chris Padwick

Chris Padwick grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and has returned to his agricultural roots in his current role as the Director of Computer Vision and Machine Learning at Blue River Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of John Deere. Chris leads the development of computer vision agriculture technology, which includes See & Spray, a smart sprayer that is enabled by AI and machine learning. It detects the location of every weed in a field and applies herbicide only where it is needed. 



Prior to joining Blue River Technology, Chris worked on spatial feature extraction and large scale mapping for multiple companies including MDA and Digital Globe.

Chris earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Regina and a master's in physics from the University of British Columbia. Chris holds multiple patents in the fields of digital image processing and machine learning systems for agriculture.