Hayward, California-based Abundant Robotics has secured $10 million in Series A funding that will help launch a robotic apple harvester, the company’s first commercial product.
Google Ventures led the funding round and was joined by BayWa AG and Tellus Partners. To date, the robotics company has raised $12 million.
Tellus founder and managing member Jacob Carter told Agri Investor that his firm’s investment in Abundant was motivated by the company’s technological advantage over its competitors.
Carter highlighted the role of Adundant’s chief technology officer and co-founder Curt Salisbury in driving the evolution of the company’s harvester. Carter said field testing and feedback from farmers prompted Salisbury to switch from a mechanized hand for harvesting fruit to the vacuum system its prototype currently uses.
The vacuum system, according to Carter, has been shown to reduce bruising, which is a key concern of customers.
“The significant barriers to entry into this market are technical. It’s a complex, mechanical and software engineering problem,” he said. “We believe Abundant Robotics is years ahead of the competition.”
Carter said Abundant hopes to bring its harvester to market in about two years.
Michael Butler, chairman and chief executive officer at Cascadia Capital, an investment bank that counts Washington State apple orchards among its clients, told Agri Investor that Abundant is well-known in the tree fruit industry. He said orchards in the US north-west have been testing Abundant’s prototypes, providing the company with feedback and watching its development closely.
“I don’t think the industry is picking a winner, per se, but they are absolutely desperate to solve the labor problem,” Butler said. “Abundant, as well as anyone else, will definitely have a willing market waiting for them when their product is commercially ready.”
Butler added that the current political climate has added to the urgency orchard owners feel about addressing long-term labor cost concerns.
The technological progress of companies developing robotic harvesters has been quicker than had been expected even a few years ago, Butler said, adding that some farmers have already begun planting new orchards specifically designed to be harvested by robotics.
“This is starting to come, and it’s coming quicker than people thought,” he said.