SAN FRANCISCO — FarmWise Labs Inc., which is building adaptive robots for agriculture, has raised $14.5 million in a Series A round. The company’s stated goal is to provide precise care to each plant for a greater yield, more profits for farmers, and a healthier environment. It has begun with an autonomous weeding robot.
FarmWise was founded in 2016 and is supported by a team of 25 experts in agriculture and artificial intelligence from MIT, Stanford University, and Columbia University. Sebastien Boyer, co-founder and CEO, won the Machine Learning for the Digital Economy competition while obtaining his master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. He also previously worked at IBM Research and Facebook.
Thomas Palomares, co-founder and chief technology officer of FarmWise, spent weekends at his grandparents’ dairy farm in France as a child and was a research assistant at Stanford’s Department of Computer Science, where he earned his master’s in management science and engineering. He worked as a data scientist at IBM Research and TrueCar.
Calibrate Ventures led the Series A round, with participation from existing investors and agriculture company Wilbur-Ellis Co., Xplorer Capital, and Alumni Ventures Group. Jason Schoettler, co-founder of Calibrate Ventures, will join FarmWise’s board of drectors.
“We are pleased to support FarmWise, which has managed to bring a radical idea from concept to commercialization in under three years,” said Schoettler. “This is a testament to their uniquely talented team, problem-solving capabilities and deep understanding of their customer and market. FarmWise is poised to fundamentally disrupt farming processes, and we are excited to play a role in their future.”
FarmWise said it plans to use the funding to grow its robotic engineering and operation teams, as well as boost research and development efforts on plant-level detection and actuation capabilities.
FarmWise offers farmers efficiency
Farmers globally need more efficient processes to meet the rising demand for organic produce, as well as constraints posed by new regulations encouraging more sustainable agriculture, said FarmWise. The global market for agricultural robots will grow from $1.01 billion in 2016 to $5.7 billion in 2024, experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.1%, predicts Transparency Market Research. Research and Markets forecasts growth from $4.1 billion in 2018 to $10.1 billion by 2024 at a CAGR of 16%.
FarmWise said its autonomous, AI-enabled robots are designed to solve farmers’ most pressing challenges by performing a variety of farming functions, starting with weeding.
“Developing FarmWise’s weeding robots has been an interesting and exciting challenge combining multiple domains of expertise such as machine learning, robotics, and mechanical engineering,” Palomares told The Robot Report. “When the robot goes through a field, it’s searching for the center of each crop, which is the prerequisite to a high-precision weeding service.
“This is a tough vision challenge that we solve, thanks to unique plant-detection models fed by millions of images,” he explained. “We have been developing our plant-perception algorithms and multi-purpose autonomous platform with the intent of expanding beyond weeding from Day 1, and we are excited to now tackle these new challenges.”
“One FarmWise robot can weed crops to feed a medium-sized city of approximately 400,000 inhabitants,” stated Boyer. “Looking ahead, our robots will increasingly act as specialized doctors for crops, monitoring individual health and adjusting targeted interventions according to a crop’s individual needs.”
The company said its robots can cleanly pick weeds from fields, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical pesticides. To date, the robots have efficiently removed weeds from more than 10 million plants, said FarmWise.
“I am very impressed with the FarmWise weeding robot,” said Dr. Steve Fennimore, a weed scientist at the University of California, Davis. “When I observed its operation in a lettuce field recently, the weed control was excellent, and the crop was unharmed.”
“The FarmWise robot is a great field solution we can rely on to tackle our critical challenges,” said Alain Pincot, owner of vegetable grower Bonipak Produce Inc. and an early customer of FarmWise. “It is very exciting to see the progress that has been made over the months.”
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