Future Acres – a Californian agricultural robotics start-up has just launched, with an ambition to raise up to US$3 million in seed capital via equity crowdfunding site SeedInvest. The company is producing an autonomous, electric agricultural robotic harvest companion, named ‘Carry’, to help farmers gather hand-picked crops faster and with less physical demand, increasing production efficiency by almost a third.
Through advanced artificial intelligence (AI), automation and electric power, Future Acres says Carry will help streamline the harvesting process, as a result of its ability to transport up to 500 lbs of crops such as grapes and other delicate, soft fruit, on all terrain and in all inclement weather conditions – increasing production efficiency by up to 30% and paying for itself in only 80 days. Its machine learning and computer vision capabilities also allow the machine to avoid obstacles like trees and people and collect and apply data to further enhance its precision.
At a time when farmers are tasked with producing more food than ever before to meet growing global population demands – predicted to get as high as 10 billion people by 2050 – alongside limitations in labour and harvesting tools, as well as greater environmental and sourcing scrutiny, farmers are likely to welcome any help to stay profitable and scale their businesses.
Bankruptcies hit an all-time high pre-COVID, and as the pandemic swept the farmlands, farmers struggled to do more with less as shortages in the supply chain were exposed and the state of the industry worsened. In fact, farm income is expected to fall 12% to US$79.4 billion in 2021, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, with production costs only climbing.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture forecasts total production expenses to increase by US$8.6 billion (2.5%) compared to 2020 – reaching US$353.7 billion in 2021 due to a higher spend on feed, fertiliser and labour. Optimisation and reducing cost are paramount for the industry to recover from the challenges of the pandemic.
Future Acres says Carry offers farmers an accessible and affordable solution that not only optimises the farming industry but builds new productivity into the food supply chain at the point of harvest to push the industry into a new era of prosperity, ethical sourcing and sustainability.
Better conditions for farmworkers
The agriculture industry still relies primarily on humans to harvest specialty crops, with seasonal farmworkers having to handle produce with care while balancing harsh and dangerous working conditions – often while receiving low and unreliable wages.
The International Labour Organization has found that workers in the industry run twice the risk of dying on the job compared with workers in other sectors – mainly because they’re working long shifts under extreme weather conditions.
Using computer-vision-powered autonomy or through remote control operation, Carry autonomously and safely follows farmworkers for a whole day’s work – the machine comes equipped with a 7-10-hour swappable battery range or 6-10 miles traversed terrain navigation.
The company says that even with just one Carry agbot operating in the field, farms could see up to US$13,500 in efficiency gain per season, while multiple Carrys operating autonomously to transport crops from the field back to the farm would allow 5-10 workers to stay focused on quality and careful sourcing, without having to go back and forth for miles.
“The agricultural industry is facing a seemingly never-ending list of challenges on a financial, worker and sustainability level,” said Suma Reddy, CEO of Future Acres. “Our vision with Carry was to develop a tool and system that could help alleviate these stressors and move the industry forward by providing a helpful operational solution capable of supporting workers by reducing the physical toll – back pain, twisted ankles and shoulder inquires no longer need to be the normal. Carry is the future of harvesting and will make an immediate impact on the lives of those in the field each and every day, all while reducing costs and helping farmers to stay profitable.”
More to come
As consumer focus increases on food supply chain practices and as attention falls on health and human safety post-pandemic, Future Acres is also planning on focusing on precision agriculture, measuring pesticide-use and crop health, and tracking yield, quality and food waste, without adding emissions or toxins to the farmlands it navigates through. The machine-learning-backed approach will ultimately serve to improve the final quality of food reaching future consumer tables.
Future Acres plans to bring Carry to small- and medium-sized farms throughout the United States. It is backed by lead investors Wavemaker Partners, a global Venture Capital fund and Wavemaker Labs, a robotics and automation-focused venture studio, which has already developed a burger-flipping robot for commercial kitchens. By launching its seed capital raise through equity crowdfunding, any individual can invest in the company without large upfront costs. The democratized venture capital model allows everyday investors to be pioneers in the most cutting-edge technologies like robotics, automation and artificial intelligence