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Canadian quantum-sensing startup receives Deere nod

A Canadian firm that uses quantum sensing to improve navigation for autonomous vehicles is among six start-up companies from around the world that will be collaborating with John Deere.

“This is a perfect opportunity to find a technology that’s really interesting that may have a large application to solving customer problems that are out there,” said Cody Sorge, business development manager for the John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group in Urbandale, Iowa.

SB Quantum of Sherbrooke, Que., was chosen to be part of John Deere’s annual Startup Collaborator program for 2024. It has developed technology based on a novel quantum magnetometer that can more accurately measure fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Potential uses range from underground mapping, such as improved mining surveys to better determine the nature and size of ore deposits, to navigating in blind spots where GPS systems typically don’t work. These include locations that are underground, underwater or are subject to interference within urban centres, said SB Quantum’s website.

“In this latter case, maneuverability is reduced by heading errors so there is often a lag for GPS to update its position and velocity, while the other sensor components in integrated navigation systems each face their own challenges to determine a heading. By contrast, SBQ can build a reference map of the Earth’s magnetic field against which autonomous vehicles can operate while other technologies lag or fail.”

As a 35-year-old who grew up on a dairy and grain farm in Wisconsin, Sorge said it’s hard to find the words to describe how quickly technology is changing agriculture.

He pointed to John Deere’s see-and-spray technology, which uses computer vision and machine learning to target specific weeds within fields, allowing farmers to reduce their herbicide costs by avoiding unnecessary spraying.

“And being able to drive a sprayer through a field at 10 to 12 m.p.h. and being able to see a weed and spray it all on the go. I never dreamed of being able to do that as a kid growing up on a farm.”

Such technologies are not only helping producers by boosting their bottom line, but they are also positively affecting the rest of society by improving the sustainability of farming, he said.

“It makes for everybody to be able to utilize it, even though they aren’t directly utilizing it.”

John Deere launched the Startup Collaborator program in 2019, said Sorge.

“And what we’re trying to do within John Deere, we’re trying to help enable farmers to do more with less to be able to drive that sustainability and to be able to grow more product, be more profitable and be more sustainable all at the same time.”

The six start-up companies in this year’s program include Constellr, which has offices in Germany and Belgium. It aims to use its own satellites to revolutionize the measurement of crucial aspects of the planet’s health, such as land surface temperature, water and carbon, said the company’s website.

The technology is able to monitor temperature events for impact on yield, it said.

“With temperature readings, we are able to monitor vegetation, soil health and derive insights on water and carbon as well as monitor industrial activities with an unprecedented level of accuracy.”

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