Two ag robotics startups raised fundings last week from several major foodtech investment players.
The technology is finding a strong foothold throughout the food supply chain, with a number of robotics startups completing investment rounds last year according to AgFunder’s 2018 AgriFood Tech Investing Report. Investment into Farm Robotics & Equipment technologies increased 56% compared to 2017 across 83 deals including transport-focused Nuro, Starship Tech, and Kodiak, as well as food processing and packing-focused RightHand Robotics and Soft Robotics.
A number of factors are driving the industry’s willingness to let robots take a crack at some of the dangerous and dirty jobs entailed in food production, including labor shortages, the ability to rapidly automate redundant processes, and the opportunity to turn a number of tasks into data generating insights.
Invert Robotics’ Climbing Inspection Robot
New Zealand-based Invert Robotics closed an $8.8 million round led by agtech-focused Finistere Ventures with support from Yamaha Motors venture capital arm, Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley. Existing investors such as Allan Moss, Inception Asset Management and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund also participated.
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The startup has developed a climbing robot that can inspect hard-to-reach places in lieu of employees who often suffer serious injuries performing the task. The robot can complete a precise remote inspection of non-magnetic surfaces and is already in use by leading food and beverage, dairy, aviation, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and chemical companies, according to Invert Robotics.
“The immediate value of Invert Robotics across the global food supply chain – from ensuring food and beverages are stored and transported in safe, pathogen-free environments, to avoiding catastrophic failures in agrichemical-industry containers and plants – is undeniably impressive,” said Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner, Finistere Ventures, in a press release announcing the raise. “However, we see the potential applications as almost limitless. With Invert Robotics, companies across a variety of industries will be able to deploy climbing robots to make asset inspection and maintenance easier and more effective to avoid life-threatening situations for their workers, their communities and their consumers.”
The new New Zealand-based startup will use the funding to open a US office, enhance its technology, and to increase its global footprint. It currently maintains offices throughout Europe. It will also use the funding to develop an artificial intelligence platform that will allow customers to take a proactive approach to asset management by predicting potential fail points and future maintenance needs.
TerraClear’s Rock Busting Robot
TerraClear raised a $6.1 million Series A round led by Madrona Venture Group with participation from existing investors. The new round of capital will be used to complete new hires, boost product development, and accelerate product testing.
The Bellevue, Washington-based company integrates machine vision, aerial sensing, and advanced robotics in a device that clears rocks from farmers’ fields — something that may not seem like a big deal to city folk but a serious problem for cattle graziers and vegetable growers alike. Removing rocks from farms and other agricultural areas is serious labor and a painstaking process that often requires expensive machinery.
TerraClear recently hosted a demo day in Grangeville, Idaho, to showcase its technology to some of the biggest farms in the region. After a field is surveyed with a drone that classifies rocks and regions by size. The area is mapped and automation helps machinery get the heavy lifting done.
The startup recently opened a lab and test facility in Grangeville, Idaho, that will allow it to engage with large-scale farmers and to test its equipment under real, on-farm conditions.