GV (formerly Google Ventures) is leading the investment bids with $10 million in Abundant Robotics for the development of a robotic apple harvester, reports TechCrunch. Joining GV in the round were BayWa AG and Tellus Partners, along with Abundant Robotics’ earlier backers Yamaha Motor Company, KPCB Edge, and Comet Labs.
“I feel like we’re getting close,” said Dan Steere, CEO of Abundant Robotics said during a project update at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s annual meeting in December.
He says research is continuing with the end goal of the robotic harvester to pick fruit with the same, if not better, fruit quality than traditional harvesting.
Steere said in field testing, the robotic harvester has logged a 5.3% defect rate – including cuts, bruises, and some punctures — while picking ‘Gala’ this fall. The other bit of note is how encouraging the sensors are in detecting the apples in the tree canopy.
“We’re happy we’re seeing 95% of apples with the robotic harvester,” he said.
In February, Steere told those in attendance at the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Wenatchee, WA, that his company is preparing a prototype for commercial sale. He said he expects to have an automated harvester in place for commercial harvests in 2018.
TechCrunch previously reported, Abundant Robotics’ machines have tackled some of the challenges around “manipulation,” or handling of fragile fruits, by using a vacuum instead of any claw or hand-like graspers to pull apples from the branch.
“In essence, they’ve made self-driving cars, with a diesel engine and power train that have to pick apples as they go along. Theirs is a complex product to solve a complex problem,” GV General Partner Andy Wheeler said.
Prior to its Series A funding, Abundant Robotics had raised $2 million in seed funding and spun out of SRI International via its SRI Ventures arm.