Raven buys DOT with plans for expansion

Norbert Beaujot of SeedMaster designed and built DOT, the autonymous farming platform. Last week he sold his remaining interest in the system to Raven Industries.  |  Michael Raine photo

Prairies autonomous farm tool finds a new home in the Dakotas, one with global reach and a growing stable

Raven Industries is now the sole owner of DOT.

Norbert Beaujot is taking in the big view from his farm in southern Saskatchewan and of the future of the autonomous farming platform.

“As a family, we couldn’t take on putting DOT where it needed to be by ourselves,” said the founder and owner of SeedMaster farm equipment near Regina.

DOT Technology Corp. builds an autonomous platform that can be fitted with several, interchangeable implements.

After five years of development and last season’s initial commercial releases of DOT, Beaujot partnered with South Dakota’s Raven Industries, which had been providing the guidance technology for the unit.

“In November we made an initial investment in DOT, and at that point became the majority stakeholder,” said Wade Robey, executive director of Raven Autonomy.

“Our relationship with DOT actually goes back a number of years, as it does with SeedMaster.”

Raven provided precision ag technology for DOT throughout its development.

Last November, Raven also acquired Smart Ag Inc., an Iowa-based company that develops autonomous farming technology, including a system called Auto Cart, which is installed in a tractor and grain cart, enabling it to run autonomously.

“We’ve now acquired these two technologies, we’re marrying it with our broader precision ag portfolio, and we intend to continue to help accelerate autonomous adoption in the market,” Robey said.

Smart Ag developed technology around perception, obstacle identification and classification, as well as obstacle avoidance that is critical for autonomous farm equipment.

“What we’re doing right now is taking that perception system and moving it over onto the DOT frame. That will allow the DOT system to move from what is currently a semi-autonomous or supervised autonomous state, to eventually one of being full autonomy,” Robey said.

He said the system will eventually be able to co-ordinate multiple DOTs on the same field while they execute a precision ag prescription.

“That will be an evolution of both the DOT and Smart Ag technologies, married with the technologies that Raven currently has in its portfolio,” he said.

Raven’s plan to expand DOT Technology Corp. may be good news for the Regina economy.

“We’ll continue manufacturing in Regina. We have an ongoing relationship with SeedMaster; we’re going to look to potentially expand that capability in Regina with our own facility,” Robey said.

Beaujot said he will continue to develop implements for the DOT and aid Raven where it needs it.

“We’ll concentrate on products for this prairie market,” he said.

DOT is currently set up for direct sales, and Raven has hired additional sales managers to assist that team.

“Long term, I think there will be other routes to market, either with establishing a network for distribution or potentially working with some of our OEM partners,” Robey said.

He said there is already international interest in the updated DOT platform, and Raven anticipates international sales this year.

“We anticipate the market internationally will be enormous for autonomy,” Robey said.

“Our initial target will be Western Canada. That’s where DOT and SeedMaster have generated the most interest and have had the most demonstrations of the DOT platform. But this year we plan to place a few units with select partners around the world.”

Beaujot feels Raven is well positioned to deal with items such as the regulatory aspects of equipment autonomy and partnering with others to develop new tools for DOT beyond seeding, planting, spraying and spreading.

Beaujot said his interests and “mental energy” will once again be focused on implement design and manufacturing.

“We’ve been very pleased with the precision seed metering and the single-rank (air seed drill) and how that is working out for farmers. We’ve been building them all winter for this spring’s delivery. There are some other items on my list to look at,” said the engineer and farm equipment builder.

“I’ve got some ideas. Some things brewing. I don’t sit still for too long.”

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