High-tech greenhouse startup AppHarvest has acquired Root AI, which uses AI to power robots that can help manage high-tech indoor farming operations.
AppHarvest is acquiring Root AI for $60 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and the balance in AppHarvest common shares; AppHarvest is publicly listed on the Nasdaq exchange after merging with a SPAC earlier this year.
Root AI claims that its Virgo robot is the world’s first universal harvester, which can harvest multiple crops of varying sizes like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and delicate fruits like strawberries. [Disclosure: Root AI is an AgFunder portfolio company. AgFunder is the parent company of AFN. Find out more.]
Root AI’s Virgo robots will be folded into AppHarvest’s workforce and help assist with tomato harvest along with cleaning up litter from fallen fruits and debris. Root AI co-founder and CEO Josh Lessing will join AppHarvest as its CTO.
Hear Root AI’s Josh Lessing speak on a webinar AgFunder hosted last year about the urgent need for automation exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic on the Future Food podcast here.
AppHarvest’s acquisition of Massachusetts-based Root AI is the next step in its rapid expansion plan. The Kentucky-based startup released its first harvest of tomatoes in January 2021 and started shipping tomatoes on the vine this month. It raised nearly $500 million as part of its SPAC listing on the Nasdaq to fund this growth.
Root AI claims to have amassed the largest data set of tomato images during its last three years of operation, allowing its Virgo robot to identify over 50 varieties in multiple growing environments and at varying stages of maturity. This helps the robots learn how and when to harvest the fruit.
Virgo uses a set of cameras combined with an infrared laser to generate a 3D color scan of an area to determine the work it can perform. Once it maps the tomatoes, it assesses their orientation and determines if they are ripe enough to pick. The robot can be programmed to make other quality assessments as well.
For AppHarvest, adding some AI-powered robots to its workforce will help it stay on top of its rapid expansion plan as it begins to harvest tomatoes from its greenhouses. Virgo will use each harvest as an opportunity to boost its accuracy, too. The robot keeps score on its success rate like a video game while a built-in feedback mechanism constantly evaluates its efficiency.
The deal marks an exit for Root AI’s investors who invested $9.5 million in the company since its inception in 2018, according to Crunchbase.
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