A drone sensor startup and analytics company Slantrange has raised $5 million in Series A funding from a broad range of investors including The Investor Group, a San Diego-based investor group, a large family-owned agriculture company in the Mid-West, and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm Motus Ventures.
This continues a trend from the company’s seed round which was funded by a farming group from Nebraska and played a major role in informing the startup’s development, according to Mike Ritter, CEO of Slantrange. The total raise includes the conversion of just under $2.5 million in convertible notes.
Slantrange promises actionable insights from the multispectral imagery captured with its sensors, which Ritter argues go one step further than most cameras used on drones and satellite imagery.
The sensors use spectral imaging and computer vision techniques to look at the spatial patterns of growth in crops, weeds, dead vegetation, and bare soil, and to isolate the crop plants from the weeds and the background. “We look specifically at the color of the plant, how it’s growing and what patterns it’s following,” said Ritter.
It focuses on green vegetation by carefully calculating the contribution of sunlight to eliminate it from the measurement, he added.
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“What is often missed is quantifying the actual sunlight when determining what light is being reflected off a crop,” he said. “So that means different weather conditions will impact results, so if you don’t correct for weather, results will be meaningless.”
Measuring the sky and sunlight means the information can be normalized and compared throughout the day, not just those taken at noon when the light is the best.
When green vegetation starts shutting down photosynthesis, it appears in the colour of the plant, and that’s what the sensors pick up — those subtle changes in color — early enough before it’s a problem, argues Ritter.
The company does not sell drones, but the sensors to attach to them and licences to its analytics software. The sensors cost around $3k which makes the company some profit, but the majority of the revenue will come from the software sales.
Responding to concerns about the time it takes to launch, fly, and process drone imagery data, Ritter argues that airborne data is available a couple of minutes after completing a flight and without any need to go into the cloud. “We’ve developed a new technique for data collection and processing which allows us to reduce by a factor of four the data collected from the airborne sensor and reduce the amount of time taken in processing which starts on board the sensor. You then plug it into the laptop in your pickup truck, which is valuable when you have no network bandwidth,” he said.
The company got started in corn and soy and is moving into vegetables in the California region, especially as commodity prices remain low and growers cut back on adopting tech, said Ritter.
“Technology is transforming agriculture, and drones represent a key part of that change,” said Sheldon Lewis, who led The Investor Group’s angel syndicate. “Rather than slow, costly and sometimes inaccurate visual inspection, Slantrange helps farmers harness vast amounts of drone data to improve all aspects of their operations. They’re creating a critical new market to help farmers feed a growing world.”
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