Apr 1, 2024
Orchard Robotics raises $3.8 million

Orchard Robotics has raised $3.8 million in a seed round led by investor General Catalyst, and a pre-seed led by Contrary.

Other investors are Humba Ventures, Soma Capital, Correlation Ventures, VU Venture Partners, Ben Taft’s Genius Ventures and angel investors that include Howard Lerman, Joshua Browder and Rory and Kieran O’Reilly.

The company has engineered artificial intelligence (AI)-driven camera systems designed to be affixed to any farm vehicle, collecting precise data (including fruit count, size, color and growth rate) pertaining to the fruit on each individual tree.

Orchard Robotics

Orchard Robotics’ technology is used by many large U.S. fruit growers to maximize yield and quality in the field and make strategic supply chain decisions post-harvest, according to a news release,

Orchards can have millions of trees, growing hundreds of millions of fruit, spanning thousands of acres. Yet historically, farmers have been forced to rely on small and imprecise sample sizes to make critical crop management decisions that affect the outcome of their whole farm.

Every tree is unique, needing specific inputs, treatments, and care all season long in order to produce the best fruit. Across millions of trees, the current practices of imprecise, homogenous treatments lead to inefficient resource usage, costly labor and a loss of potential crop value.

“Growing better fruit begins with knowing what you’re growing,” founder and CEO Charles Wu said in the release. “Nearly every decision on the farm, from pruning to spraying to thinning, is made in an effort to maximize fruit yield and quality.

“Our cameras image trees from bud to bloom to harvest, and use advanced computer vision and machine learning models we’ve developed to collect precise data about hundreds of millions of fruit,” he said in the release. “This is a monumental step forward from traditional methods, which rely on manually-collected samples of maybe 100 fruits.”

Wu founded the company while at Cornell University. Its technology has been validated to consistently provide accurate counts when properly calibrated. Today, the company aids farmers in precision pruning, thinning and spraying for targeted crop load management that reduces labor costs, while ensuring each tree gets what it needs to thrive, according to the release.

The impact of the company’s technology stretches beyond the field, helping packhouses and marketers gain detailed insights into their supply chain through early-season yield estimates.

The company’s FruitScope OS was built with growers in mind, Wu said.

“We recognize that data is only useful if our farmers can actually use it,” he said in the release. “Which is why, in collaboration with our growers, we’ve built FruitScope to be the industry-leading crop load management platform, where farmers can not only view all of their orchard data, but more importantly, put it into action on their farms.”

Orchard Robotics is designed to transform the future of farming, Niko Bonatsos and Max Rimpel, managing director and partner at General Catalyst, respectively, said in the release.

“The experience of the team, early success with large customers, partnership approach, and their data-first platform stood out to us, and we look forward to helping the company modernize a legacy industry for the fruit industry and beyond,” Bonatsos said in the release.

Wu is a member of the newest class of Thiel Fellows, a program that gives $100,000 over two years to college students who leave school to pursue their own research and projects.

. On his selection to the program, Alex Handy, Director of the Thiel Fellowship, said

“By pushing crop yield beyond previously imagined limits, Charlie is paving the way for a future where farmers will be truly omniscient, understanding their yields at the cellular level,” Alex Handy, director of the Thiel Fellowship, said in the release. “Orchard’s transformative approach will render the agricultural revolution a mere prelude to a future that truly reflects the skills, talent, and passion of America’s farmers.”

Following a successful 2023 growing season, this investment enables the company to scale its team and operations to better serve existing and future customers across larger acreages, while bringing precision crop management to all parts of the farm.

For more information, visit orchard-robotics.com.

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