GV Leads $10M Series A for Abundant Robotics
May 4, 2017
Hayward, California-based Abundant Robotics, an automated robotic solutions provider that is developing apple-picking robots, announced it has raised $10 million in a Series A led by GV (Google Ventures), and including BayWa AG, and Tellus Partners.
Spun out from startup incubator, SRI Ventures last year, Abundant Robotics has developed a robot that uses computer vision to recognize apples on the branch, and uses a vacuum system that can pick one fruit per second without damaging the fruit, as many clawed robotic arms can.
“Our mission is to bring automation to the hardest jobs in agriculture,” said Dan Steere, CEO and co-founder of Abundant Robotics. “We’re excited to work with investors who share our vision for delivering productivity growth needed to support the world’s growing population and improving standards of health.”
Apples are the second most consumed fruit in the U.S., with per capita consumption standing at 16 pounds per person per year, following top ranked bananas, which have annual per capita consumption of 25 pounds per year, reports SF Gate.
Furthermore, orchards produce yearly harvests valued at approximately $200 billion, of this total, apples generate about $50 billion in revenue per year, however, despite their popularity and high value, the process for harvesting apples has not changed in hundreds of years. Indeed, thinning, pruning, and harvesting all rely on increasingly scarce seasonal manual labor.
Seeing the need for advancement, Steere told Tech Crunch that the company began collaborating with apple growers four years ago to create a robot that can safely automate the harvesting process.
At the end of 2015, the company demonstrated a robotic harvester prototype, built with funding from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and SRI International, before spinning off to pursue commercialization of the technology the following year.
Until recently, the technology wasn’t there to create an automated harvester that wouldn’t bruise the fruit and reduce its value. However, advances in computer vision and image processing have opened the door to commercialization for companies like Abundant.
“You direct this robot to go someplace, see and pick an apple, and go again. It’s a very non-trivial engineering challenge,” Steere told Tech Crunch. “To detect apples very precisely you have to see down at the millimeter level in real time. That requires software, and on the hardware side, chips that allow you to do real time image processing on the fly.”
An automated harvester also will help growers who are faced with labor availability issues in the face of immigration reforms.
“Growers are eagerly looking for an automation solution to solve labor surge issues, and Abundant Robotics is the first of its kind to meet these specialized needs,” said Andy Wheeler, general partner at GV. “Between the founding team’s deep expertise in agricultural robotics, and the wide potential for expanding beyond apples to adjacent crops, Abundant Robotics is well-positioned to disrupt the orchard harvesting market.”
Lynda Kiernan is Editor with GAI Media and daily contributor to GAI News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at email@example.com
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