Sep 28, 2021Burro to accelerate commercialization of collaborative robot platform
Burro, formerly known as Augean Robotics, an autonomy company providing solutions for the agriculture industry, announced Sept. 28 it has raised a $10.9 million Series A. The round was led by S2G Ventures and Toyota Ventures, with F-Prime Capital and the Cibus Enterprise Fund joining, along with existing investors including Radicle Growth and ffVC.
Burro robots are the first step toward an autonomous future where robots do work outdoors that people no longer want to do. Burros enable growers to boost profitability and mitigate labor shortages today by working collaboratively to force multiply workers, while also laying the foundation for more comprehensive automation tomorrow.
Growers of labor-intensive specialty crops such as table grapes, berries, and nursery crops are largely un-mechanized and therefore out of necessity employ 88 percent of United States crop workers to do a diverse set of hard-to-mechanize tasks. This workforce has shrunk rapidly in recent years. For example, California, where the bulk of specialty crops in the U.S. are grown, has seen a 40 percent decline in the number of farmworkers over the past decade, driven by the strenuous nature of farm labor, increasing regulations, and rising wages. In the face of this crisis, growers are searching for autonomous systems that can reduce their labor needs, but virtually nothing is available commercially today.
With its Series A funding, Burro plans to address this need by expanding to 500+ robots next year to meet demand from both existing and new customers. To drive this growth, the company is dramatically increasing the size of its team, while also expanding the capabilities of its product. Along with adding the dexterity needed to pick table grapes, Burro will also extend its mobility autonomy into nursery and berry markets.
Burro is the only plug-and-play autonomous people-scale robot available that increases productivity in conventional production environments. Burros feature a novel and patent-pending approach called Pop Up Autonomy™, which means they work immediately out of the box by enabling everyone in a working environment to become an operator. They do not require a centralized control or installation of burdensome infrastructure. Instead, the robots use computer vision and AI to learn on the fly and to navigate autonomously from A to B while carrying various payloads.
“Many autonomy companies beginning in agriculture have focused first on autonomous tractors, autonomous weeding, and harvesting, where they try to comprehensively automate incredibly hard technical tasks, and often struggle to scale into a large market – we’ve started instead with collaborative people-scale robots that help people by moving heavy things around,” Charlie Andersen, CEO of Burro, said in a news release. “The beauty of this approach is that we can scale today around a ubiquitous pain point in the most labor-intensive areas of agriculture, while also allowing our platform to capture data and learn about many environments – providing the foundation for us to scale to countless other applications.”
Today Burro has 90 robots in table grape fields covering 100-300 miles a day autonomously, six days a week. Instead of each farmworker walking several miles a day with a 250 pound wheelbarrow full of grapes in the heat, farm workers can stand in the shade and pick/pack with a continuous flow of fruit out of the field. Burros are already transforming worker productivity with one Burro enabling six-plus people to harvest up to 48 percent more fruit per day for a less than two month ROI.
“Charlie and the Burro team have big plans to drive their product roadmap from a growing customer base, harden their technology through real-world use, and offer extended platform services that farmers need every day,” said Jim Adler, Founding Managing Director at Toyota Ventures. “Burro is already gaining traction in the big, broken but increasingly accessible agricultural market.”
Burro is already scaling in the $3 billion table grapes market and looking to expand into berries and nursery crops. It eventually aims to tackle the $1.2T in US outdoor labor where automation can address some of the industry’s most pressing challenges. Burro’s robots are modular and built to scale. Today’s product is the first step in a fully autonomous farm stack: robots that can navigate anywhere, perceive everything, and use dexterity to do increasingly complex work outdoors.
“Burro’s product is in high demand because the team is hyper-focused on understanding and solving real agriculture use cases in a way that is simple and accessible,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer at S2G Ventures. “We are thrilled to back Charlie and the team at Burro as they work side-by-side with growers to improve the social, environmental and economic outcomes of farm operations.”
As part of the round, Sanjeev Krishnan, will join the board of directors at Burro.
Burro, formally known as Augean Robotics, is a Philadelphia-based robotics company building an autonomous platform designed to free growers and their workforce from tedious tasks, while building the modular base for greater autonomy. Founded in 2017, the company offers the only fully autonomous, plug-and-play collaborative farming robot on the market.S2G Ventures is a multi-stage venture fund investing across the food, agriculture, oceans and seafood markets. The fund’s mission is to catalyze innovation to meet consumer demands for healthy and sustainable food systems. S2G has identified sectors across the food system that are ripe for change, and is building a multi-stage portfolio including seed, venture and growth stage investments. Core areas of interest for S2G are agriculture, oceans, ingredients, infrastructure and logistics, IT and hardware, food safety and technology, retail and restaurants, and consumer brands.
Toyota Ventures is a San Francisco Bay Area-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups from around the world. Founded in July 2017, its mission is to discover what’s next for Toyota by helping startups bring disruptive technologies and business models to market quickly. With more than $500 million in assets under management, the firm’s funds include the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund focused on artificial intelligence, cloud computing, autonomy, mobility, robotics, smart cities, digital health, financial technologies, materials, and energy; and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund focused on innovative solutions for carbon neutrality.