SAN FRANCSICO – FarmWise, which develops autonomous farming robot systems, today announced raising $14.5 million in a Series A funding round, led by Calibrate Ventures. The company said it will use the funding to grow the company’s engineering and operations teams, as well as boost research and development efforts around plant-level detection and actuation capabilities.
In addition to existing ventures participating in the round, agriculture company Wilbur Ellis, Xplorer Capital, and Alumni Ventures Group also participated in the Series A funding, the company said in a statement.
FarmWise’s autonomous robots perform several farming functions, starting with weeding, and provide “personalized care to every plant they touch,” the company said. Through machine learning models, computer vision and high-precision mechanical tools, the FarmWise robots can cleanly pick weeds from fields, leaving crops with “the best opportunity to thrive while eliminating harmful chemical inputs.” Since the company’s founding in 2016, FarmWise’s robots have removed weeds from more than 10 million plants.”
The company utilizes a robots-as-a-service business model, which allows farming operations of all sizes a chance to experience the system without worrying about a big capital purchase or maintaining the equipment.
“Each day, one FarmWise robot can weed crops to feed a medium-sized city of approximately 400,000 inhabitants,” said Sebastien Boyer, co-founder and CEO of FarmWise. “We are now enhancing the scale and depth of our proprietary plant-detection technology to help growers with more of their processes and on more of their crops. 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.”
Robotics mixed with analytics
In an interview with Robotics Business Review, Boyer said he and co-founder Thomas Palomares were looking at ways to provide eco-friendly processes and sustainable farming options when they started the company in 2016. With backgrounds in machine learning, computer science and engineering, robotics didn’t enter the equation until they had spoken with farmers about their problems around sustainable farming, and realized that combining their software with a vehicle that could also pull the weeds was the right direction to go.
“The initial ideas we had to help farmers were all about leveraging data and building analytics around data to provide farmers with better insights,” said Boyer. “We realized after a couple of months of interactions with them that data was not going to be enough – that data alone can’t really move the needle for farmers. The reason for that is they still rely on chemicals and labor when it comes to performing actual farming tasks on the field. So we got convinced that the only way we would be able to improve efficiency in farming was to not only capture and analyze data, but also turn that data into specific changes or specific actions on the field.”
The team initially looked at several platforms that could attempt to analyze and do the weeding, including existing farm equipment, said Boyer. The company then decided to design a system from scratch that would fit growers’ needs and allow the company to achieve the precision it was looking for.
The current version of the FarmWise robot is aimed at vegetable farming, and can handle different types of vegetable fields, which typically are low to the ground. The company has partnered with Roush to help manufacture the robots and scale up production. Since producing the FarmWise vehicles, the company has deployed them to several farms.
“The FarmWise robot is a great field solution we can rely on to tackle our critical challenges,” said Alain Pincot, owner of Bonipak, and an early customer of FarmWise. “It is very exciting to see the progress that has been made over the months.”
The global agriculture drones and robots market is expected to grow from $2.53 billion in 2018 to $23.06 billion by 2028, according to a report by BIS Research. With a compound annual growth rate of 24.76% over the next 10 years, the market will be driven by the need to apply site-specific farming, variable rate application of raw materials and resources, and a decline in agricultural labor across the world.
As part of the funding round, Calibrate Ventures Co-Founder Jason Schoettler will join FarmWise’s board of directors. “We are thrilled 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.”
Boyer said the company’s goal is to provide farmers with robotics systems that can assist them in the process between seeding and harvesting. “Our approach is to have an extremely data-driven approach where we add sensors to the platform to be able to make better decisions about how to give those plants exactly what they need, and how to maximize efficiency at the end of the growing cycle, and to decrease the amount of chemicals that are used before harvesting.”