SwarmFarm Robotics hands ‘integrated autonomy’ to innovative growers
SWARMFARM ROBOTICS has raised a $12 million in Series A funding to develop and grow the ‘integrated autonomy’ category in agriculture through its versatile SwarmBot platform.
The Australian-developed program with global ambitions will also drive forward SwarmFarm’s breakthrough operating system network, SwarmConnect, that enables developers to create an array of innovative applications for users of the autonomous platform.
“There is enormous demand for autonomy in agriculture, but today, most solutions unlock minimal potential,” SwarmFarm CEO Andrew Bate said. “The current equipment providers believe that farmers just want to be plucked from the cab or replaced by robotic arms.
“We believe that farmers want more. They want a technology ecosystem built to address the issues in their locality, a farm-centric system that leaves the lowest possible footprint on their fields, helping them do more with less. They want integrated autonomy, so that’s what we're building.”
Mr Bate and the team at SwarmFarm define integrated autonomy as a new approach to autonomy on-farm that unlocks the full potential of driverless technology by providing specialty robotics solutions with an open platform to develop on.
“While many companies are making driverless tractors and developing niche robotics solutions in agriculture today, we believe that there is a third category of autonomy that combines the robot and the application within a development framework that will allow farmers to customize their equipment for their needs and allow developers to bring their innovations to life much more rapidly,” Mr Bate said.
“It's the best of both worlds. For the farmer, we provide customized autonomy in a box. For the developer, we provide a streamlined path to the grower with a tight feedback loop.”
The company’s Series A funding round was led by Emmertech, an AgTech fund from Conexus Venture Capital based in Canada. The funding also sees new investment from Tribe Global Ventures and Access Capital.
Also joining the round are SwarmFarm's existing investors, including Tenacious Ventures, and GrainInnovate, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) venture capital fund managed by Artesian.
“We are thrilled to be joining Andrew, Jocie, and the whole SwarmFarm team as they pioneer the future of autonomous agriculture,” Emmertech managing director Sean O'Connor said.
“The key trait that drove our eagerness to lead this round was the farmer-centric approach this team is built around and the truly exceptional results their robots have achieved. We met with several farmers who were putting upwards of 3000 hours a year on their SwarmBot, often leaving them out in the fields for over 24 hours at a time.
“We believe there’s a future where SwarmBots can be found on farms across North America and worldwide.”
SwarmFarm announced last year that SwarmBots had successfully been deployed to farmers who covered over 1.3 million commercial acres, operated for 64,000 hours, and reduced pesticide inputs by an estimated 780 tons (700 tonnes).
“We are proud to support the team at SwarmFarm as they unlock the potential of integrated autonomy in agriculture,” GRDC head of business development, Fernando Felquer said.
“What makes SwarmFarm so attractive to us is that the founders are Australian grain growers developing autonomous solutions from the ground up with Australian farming systems in mind, and the technology has global application.”
Born on the Bate family farm in rural Queensland, Mr Bate said SwarmFarm exists to solve a complex problem set many farmers are facing around the world today: “how to grow better crops and the optimal amount of food on their land without putting down excessive amounts of chemicals or acquiring larger and larger equipment”.
“We hit a point where we just said enough is enough,” Mr Bate said. “We saw our input costs increasing, our equipment costs rising as we bought larger equipment, our dependence on pesticides rising, and our yields declining despite it all.
“There was a day when we sat down and realised that this wasn’t an equation that needed incremental change; we needed an entirely new farming system – and SwarmFarm was the solution.”
The SwarmFarm team saw a future where developers could create specialised tools that could be attached to swarms of small, nimble, autonomous robot platforms that create new farming practices through facilitating collaboration between farmers and technologists – laying the groundwork for the SwarmConnect product.
“We envision a future where the most promising minds in technology are encouraged to turn toward solving the challenges faced by modern agriculture,” Mr Bate said.
“We also believe in a future where there is no longer such a severe distinction between farmers and technologists, but rather a new breed of farmer-technologists. This funding helps us to move toward that future by meeting more of the global demand for our product and facilitating the growth of our SwarmConnect network of developers.”
Today, SwarmFarm serves customers across Australia and works with some of the most innovative farm equipment developers, including WEED-IT, Bilberry, Weedseeker, Hayes Spraying, Rasmussen Brothers Engineering, Goldacres, and Croplands.
“It is critical that we put tools into our farmers’ hands that help them do more with less. This is key to a climate resilient, profitable future for agriculture,” Tenacious Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Sarah Nolet said.
“With their background in farming, the team at SwarmFarm has been able to see around some of the corners on the road to autonomy and anticipate the needs of the growers they serve. We look forward to continuing to work with them as they unlock more productivity and sustainability in agriculture through their unique approach to integrated autonomy.”
SwarmFarm’s unique approach to autonomy resonates with its customers, resulting in consistent and continued growth. Mr Bate said the team would hire for roles in their Queensland and New South Wales offices to support this growth.
“The future of agriculture is happening now, but there is no way that one company can really invent everything needed to revolutionise agriculture,” Mr Bate said. “We need the smartest minds from around the world working on this.
“We need an army of developers solving agriculture’s problems one app at a time. So come join us as a partner and help deliver the revolution that agriculture needs.”
SwarmFarm Robotics was founded in 2015 near Emerald, Queensland to pioneer the development and use of intelligent robotics in Australian agriculture through integrated autonomy. Mr Bate said this entirely new approach to autonomy on-farm provided “more than another driverless system or a niche robotics solution”.
“Integrated autonomy puts the farmer’s needs first and creates a technology ecosystem around them to help save time, resources and energy while optimizing for profitable and sustainable growth,” he said.
More information about SwarmFarm can be downloaded here.