The robotics revolution in farming is set to continue as the autonomous crop cultivation company FarmWise looks to add new capabilities to its autonomous farming equipment.
The San Francisco-based company is currently testing the application of fungicides and insecticides to row crops as an additional capability for its weed-killing robots, according to company chief executive Sébastien Boyer.
It's the latest advancement in robotics for the farm -- a market that's becoming increasingly crowded with the launch of new companies like Future Acres, which launched its support robot Carry today, and Mineral, the spinout from Alphabet (Google's parent company) that provides crop analysis.
Rather than sell robots directly to farmers, FarmWise sells its robotics services to farms, and charges farms roughly $200 per acre inspected and weeded. "We show up on farmers’ fields with our own operators and our own equipment," Boyer said.
It's a business model that has attracted $24 million in outside funding from firm's including Playground Global, and the company is likely going to raise another round, targeted at $20 million, later this year, according to Boyer.
Boyer says the company already counts half of the largest growers in Salinas, California among the company's customers. These are farms for big consumer vegetable companies like Dole.
What FarmWise hopes to do is fill gaps of missing labor, according to Boyer. Along with co-founder Thomas Palomares, Boyer said he identified a need for farms to keep up with their output while dealing with a shrinking workforce. "It's about helping farmers keep up with work while the pool of people willing to do these jobs is shrinking," he said.
Using the robots isn't just good for farms' bottom lines, Boyer said. It also helps reduce the amount of fertilizer and chemicals used on the farm, which is good for the environment and creates a more sustainable food chain, he said.
"I was attracted by working on a large-scale sustainability problem," Boyer said.