Ripe Robotics: AI enabled fruit harvesting robot – $2.8 million seed investment round
- Seed & Series A stage investors in AI, agtech, or robotics.
- Investors aligned on the importance of AI over the coming decades, and who have or are building the expertise and networks to have an impact on the direction the world goes with this technology.
Picking fruit is a big problem. People are expensive, they damage the fruit, and the work is difficult, dangerous, seasonal, and unappreciated. Thousands of tonnes of fruit are left to rot each year.
There’s also very little data available in horticulture. A few tests on a few trees a few times a week is what most growers have to work with. It’s hard to precisely measure how various interventions affect the fruit, and confounders like heat, hail, and pests make tracking difficult.
With the global fresh fruit market hitting nearly a trillion dollars, and with 40% of on-orchard costs in Australia coming from harvesting alone, automating an industry which has relied so heavily on human labour and expertise could have a huge impact on sustainability, yields, and on the growers bottom line.
At Ripe Robotics, the starting point for automation is through apple and stone fruit picking. Harvesting fruit well is the task with both the highest demand and highest value add in the field today, but it’s also the one with the best opportunity for going above and beyond what is currently possible without requiring growers to change their existing methods.
Ripe Robotics is raising A$2.8 million to build a commercial pilot fleet of four picking machines in Shepparton, and to demonstrate profitable apple picking at scale. They currently have a prototype machine autonomously harvesting apples in commercial trials, two signed contracts worth up to $5 million per year, and expressions of interest from dozens of other growers in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Europe.
Today, practically all apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums are picked by hand (as are most other fresh fruits). Robots have only become feasible in the last few years because of advances in artificial intelligence, allowing the detection and assessment of fruit in the field.
Ripe Robotics is in a position to secure a huge portion of this new market. With an order of magnitude less funding than our competitors, we have reached a similar stage with a machine that can be built and operated at a fraction of the price. Ripe Robotics modular design is simple, scalable, patent-pending, and designed explicitly for their local manufacturing and maintenance model, which is what they will be developing and demonstrating in 2023 & 2024 with this financing round.
Potential other applications
As Ripe Robotics gather more data, it will become possible for them to expand beyond fruit picking to tasks like thinning, pruning, spraying, and on-farm sorting and analytics.
Both during harvest, and outside of it, Ripe Robotics' machines can gather thousands of images of the fruit and the orchard. The same AI that they have implemented to find and assess fruit for picking can be adapted to measure size, quality, colour, damage, disease, and pest infestation throughout the whole year.
Ripe Robotics will present this information to the growers, and then use their guidance to continue to improve the system. Rather than try to get growers to change their way of working, they will upgrade the robots to use the data directly to perform work, starting with improved harvesting, and then moving to more complicated tasks.
In the future, a giant system will be receiving data from thousands of robots on hundreds of farms, and will be able to find correlations between interventions and yield outcomes with precision never before possible in agronomy. It will be able to direct the fleet of robots in a way that is simply impossible with human workers and operators.
Full automation of agriculture is Ripe Robotic’s goal.
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