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Bear Flag Robotics, a Calif.-based developer of autonomous driving technology for tractors, closed a $7.9 million seed extension funding round. After closing a $4.6 million seed round two years ago, Bear Flag Robotics has now raised a total of $12.5 million.
Founded in 2017, Bear Flag Robotics will use the new funding to expand its fleet of autonomous tractors and its engineering team. The company retrofits its autonomy stack onto tractors. It uses cameras, LiDAR and radar technology for redundant, 360-degree situational awareness on a farm.
The tractors can either be bought or rented under a robotics as a service (RaaS) agreement in which it charges per acre. The company said its mission is to augment a farm’s workforce to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food through automation.
In the announcement about the seed extension round, the company said the farm labor pool is disappearing and increasing in cost 10% year over year. The announcement also pointed out that safety is also a pressing concern – tractor overturns and transportation incidents are the leading cause of death on U.S. farms.
“When we first invested in [Bear Flag Robotics], we saw an innovative, passionate team bringing automation to farms,” said Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures. “The impact of what Bear Flag Robotics delivers is meaningful every single day for farm operations, growers and consumers.”
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While the tractors run autonomously, human supervisors use software to monitor and command the fleet from a remote mission control room or personal device. The software plans optimal field patterns based on growers’ implements, and provides predictive and post-run analytics.
Bear Flag Robotics said it is currently working with the largest produce and commodity growers in California and Arizona. Of course, one of the challenges the startup faces is that it is one of many companies developing autonomous tractors. Notable competitors include Case IH and John Deere, which acquired Blue River Technology in 2017 for $305 million. According to a recent report in 2018 by Global Market Insights, the demand for autonomous agricultural machinery will exceed 3 million items and will account for a market size of $ 180 billion by 2024.
True Ventures led the seed extension round with participation from Graphene Ventures, AgFunder, D20 and Green Cow VC.