Australia’s SwarmFarm Robotics has raised A$4.5 million ($3.22 million) in a funding round led by local VCs Tenacious Ventures and Artesian. The Queensland Business Development Fund also supported the round.
The startup was founded in 2012 by farmer couple Andrew and Jocie Bate, who also run a dryland crop and beef cattle operation in the remote settlement of Gindie, Queensland.
According to SwarmFarm, it’s one of only a handful of companies globally to have actually delivered autonomous robots to commercial farmers and set them to work. SwarmFarm’s autonomous machines have sprayed, weeded, and mowed more than 200,000 acres of farmland over the past two years, it claims.
The Bates and their team are taking a platform approach to ag robotics. In their own words, they’re “scaling agriculture by partnering high-tech robotics with new farming practices that can increase productivity [and] reduce the environmental impact of farming.”
Central to this offering is the startup’s SwarmConnect ecosystem, akin to an API that ‘opens’ the SwarmFarm platform and enables developers, farmers, and partner organizations to program its robots to suit their own needs.
With SwarmConnect, “independent developers can release new farming solutions as apps and attachments on board our robots,” co-founder and CEO Andrew said in a statement.
“We are just scratching the surface of how apps […] can allow the brightest minds from around the world [to] begin to solve agriculture’s problems, one app at a time.”
One example of a partner app already being used by SwarmFarm’s farmer customers is WEED-IT. SwarmFarm robots running WEED-IT are able to provide a fully-autonomous, selective weed-spraying solution for management of fallow weeds, which pose a significant challenge for large-scale grain growers.
“SwarmFarm is different [from other ag robotics players] in several key ways, but none more important than how advanced they are in deploying real, working products to paying, happy customers,” Tenacious Ventures co-founder Sarah Nolet told AFN.
“[They’re already] serving customers in Australia across a range of different agricultural settings including grains, horticulture, and turf […] As a founding team, Andrew and Jocie bring deep operating experience in large-scale agriculture, so they know what great farmer-facing solutions look like – and it’s embedded in their robots.”
That first-hand understanding of what farmers require from their robots, and SwarmFarm’s track record of securing in-market partnerships with third-party application providers to provide solutions for a range of agricultural settings, is what encouraged Tenacious Ventures to back the startup.
“In other words, they are a platform solving a range of use cases across a range of farming systems,” Nolet said, explaining her firm’s decision to invest.
“The SwarmFarm platform is designed by farmers with their needs in mind. The SwarmConnect ecosystem ensures that the platform will deliver the best possible return for owners through maximum machine utilization.”
The startup said it will use the new funding to build out its engineering and technical teams, accelerate production of its robots, and support business growth in Australia and farther afield.
Nolet said that the startup’s international expansion will be prioritized in line with the growth of SwarmConnect.
“[It’s] looking to set up SwarmConnect partnerships in the US and Canada to establish pilot applications and initial customer deployments,” she said.
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