Root AI, which makes an automated solution for harvesting crops grown on indoor farms, announced today that it has raised $7.2 million in seed funding. PJC, First Round Capital, Outsiders Fund, Accomplice and AgFunder all participated in the round, as well as Jason Calacanis. This brings the total amount raised by Root AI to $9.5 million.
Root AI’s robots use a combination of computer vision and artificial intelligence to identify when a crop like tomatoes or stawberries need to be picked. Part of the Root AI pitch is that it’s a “cross crop” harvester, so it can use different grippers to pick different shaped fruit. The robot’s AI helps the grippers pick crops with just the right amount of pressure to remove the food, without damaging it.
Root AI sits in the nexus of a number of different societal and market changes. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, robots were being eyed as a way to keep farms working even through dangerous heat and other conditions. With the pandemic still raging across the country, farms have reported outbreaks among its workers while the federal government has provided no rules to protect them. On a broader level, the pandemic has accelerated the potential for robot adoption because robots do not get sick and reduce the amount of human-to-human contact during the meal journey.
Root AI is also coming during a growth period for indoor farming. AppHarvest is building a massive indoor farm in Kentucky. Wilder Fields is converting an old Target in Chicago into and indoor farm. Even UK grocer, Ocado, has gotten into the indoor farming game with its Infinite Acres venture.
One key to making those indoor farms successful will be the economics of indoor farming. Will they be able to produce as much food as those high-tech systems cost? Robotics like those from Root AI, which will offer its robots as a service could help. In addition to not getting sick (or spreading sickness), robots like Root AI can run 24 hours a day.
Root AI is not the only harvesting ‘bot in town. Other players in the indoor farming robot space include MetoMotion, and outside on the farm, Traptic and Advanced Farm Technologies each have harvesting robots.