TartanSense, an Indian startup devleoping robotics solutions aimed at smallholder farmers, has raised $5 million in Series A funding.
Indian VC firm Blume Ventures, an existing TartanSense investor, also participated in the funding. The Series A round takes the startup’s total funding to date to $7 million, following its $2 million seed raise in March 2019.
TartanSense builds robotic farm vehicles, generally smaller size than their non-automated equivalents, that are equipped with computer vision technology that allows them to ‘see’ what they are doing.
These robots are built to target two interrelated problems faced by many smallholder farmers in India and other lower-income economies: inefficient chemical spraying, and an unreliable supply of manual labor.
TartanSense claims that its robots offer “an affordable precision agriculture solution [covering] sowing, spraying, weeding, and harvesting” for smallholders – helping them to simultaneously reduce spending while improving yields and income.
Its latest robot — named BladeRunner — is able locate, identify, and uproot weeds, in addition to spot-spraying on particular crops. According to TartanSense, BladeRunner can reduce chemical use by up to 45% and boost weeding efficiency 7x.
The startup is focusing its efforts on crops which come with higher weeding costs; of these, one of particular importance in the Indian market is cotton.
The country is one of the world’s top two growers of cotton alongside China, reportedly producing about 6.16 million metric tons of the white stuff last year.
TartanSense estimates that India has around 33 million acres of cotton under cultivation, with an average weeding spend of $100 per acre – which it extrapolates as a potential market for its robots worth $3 billion each year.
The Bengaluru-based startup was founded in 2015 by Jaisimha Rao, who began to build a team made up of his fellow Carnegie Mellon alumni (the US university’s sports teams and their supporters are known as ‘Tartans’ – hence the choice of name for the company.)
Rao previously worked as a portfolio manager for BlackRock in New York before returning to his native India in 2014 to help run his family’s coffee farm.
“Our mission is to make smallholder farmers wealthier by shipping monetizable robots. TartanSense will have the world’s largest fleet of agriculture robots in the next 18 months,” he said in a statement announcing the Series A funding.
Amar Singh, managing director at FMC Ventures, described the startup as “a pioneer in ground-based precision spraying in India.”
“With growers interests in mind, it has developed a unique, low-cost precision application technology with a very high level of accuracy,” he added.