Controlled ag company AppHarvest announced today that it has acquired Root AI, a startup that makes AI-based robots for harvesting crops grown in indoor farms. According to the press announcement, AppHarvest is spending roughly $60 million to acquire Root AI, with $10 million in cash and the balance in AppHarvest common shares. Root AI had raised $9.5 million in funding.
Root AI makes Virgo, a universal harvester that can be configured to identify and harvest different crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and strawberries. Virgo’s cameras use computer vision along with an infrared laser to create a 3D color scan of an area to determine what work the robot needs to perform.
For a crop like tomatoes, the system figures out the orientation of the fruit and determines if they are ripe enough to pick. Once it “sees” which tomatoes need to be picked, Virgo selects the most efficient route to picking the fruit and then sends a robotic arm and gripper to pluck the fruit.
The acquisition makes sense for AppHarvest, which runs a 2.76 million square foot indoor farm in Morehead, Kentucky that is expected to produce roughly 45 million pounds of tomatoes each year. That facility uses an array of sensors, LEDs and other automated systems to control the entire growing process. Adding robotics harvesters to its stack seems like a logical next step for AppHarvest — particularly as the company is in the process of building out its network of farms. AppHarvest has two more farms currently under construction in Kentucky.
The company is also flush with cash, having went public via SPAC in February, giving it $435 million in “unrestricted cash” to run and grow its operations.
After the acquisition, Root AI’s 19 employees are expected to join AppHarvest, with Co-Founder and CEO Josh Lessing taking on the role of AppHarvest CTO, and Co-Founder Ryan Knopf joining as VP of technology.