US ag robotics startup Burro has raised $10.9 million in Series A funding, it announced today. The round was led by US agrifoodtech VC S2G Ventures and Toyota Ventures, a San Francisco-based VC arm of Japanese conglomerate Toyota.
A Toyota spokesperson told AFN that the round marks its “first investment in agriculture” and “comes at an important time for the industry, as farmers face harsher working conditions, and these robots are helping improve their day-to-day lives.”
Burro claims its bots of burden are “the only plug-and-play autonomous people-scale” solution on the market. Founded in 2017 as Augean Robotics, the startup has developed an automation platform for specialty crop operations that aims to complement, rather than replace, human labor.
According to Burro, around 88% of the US’s agricultural workforce is employed by specialty operations growing fruits like table grapes, berries, and nursery crops, due to their relative complexity.
However, due to wage competition and tightening regulations around labor and immigration, the traditional specialty crop workforce has been depleted in recent years.
Burro’s answer has been to build farm robots that can be deployed ‘out of the box’ and easily controlled by human laborers. The Philadelphia-based startup says it bots use artificial intelligence and computer vision tech to learn as they work, meaning that they don’t need a centralized control system or any additional infrastructure before they can get down to business.
Their main job is to carry payloads — such as harvested fruit — by navigating their way autonomously to where they are needed.
“Many autonomy companies beginning in agriculture have focused first on autonomous tractors, autonomous weeding, and harvesting, where they try to comprehensively automate incredibly hard technical tasks, and often struggle to scale into a large market,” Burro CEO Charlie Andersen said in a statement.
“We’ve started instead with collaborative people-scale robots that help people by moving heavy things around. The beauty of this approach is that we can scale today around a ubiquitous pain point in the most labor-intensive areas of agriculture, while also allowing our platform to capture data and learn about many environments – providing the foundation for us to scale to countless other applications.”
Burro has deployed 90 robots to date, which travel between 100 and 300 miles per day, in table grape operations. By handling the transportation of harvested fruit out of the field, the robots allow human workers to pick up to 48% more produce every day, according to the startup.
The Series A funds will be used to grow the Burro fleet to over 500 robots by the end of 2022. The startup plans to hire more talent to help it achieve this objective, while also investing in further development of its robot’s capabilities and diversifying beyond the table grape market.