Future Acres Debuts New Agtech Robot, Carry
Francesca Billington is a dot.LA editorial intern. She's previously reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. Before joining dot.LA, she was a communications fellow at an environmental science research center in Sri Lanka. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
Robots could soon take on the tasks of farmworkers harvesting the nation's food.
Santa Monica-based Future Acres, an agriculture tech startup, unveiled its first prototype on Tuesday — a robot named Carry that helps farmers transport crops.
Carry won't replace human employees that pick crops. Rather, the remote-operated machine will follow workers and take what they collect back to a sorting facility, speeding up operations in a labor-intensive industry. Since 2017, the team has been quietly busy testing the AI-powered machine that can transport up to 500 pounds of produce in virtually any weather condition.
The model unveiled Tuesday is a beta version of the robot. A spokesperson said a Carry 2.0 will launch in the next couple months for commercial purchase. It's designed for small- to medium-sized farms across the country.
The news comes as the company launches a crowdfunding campaign for $3 million. It's already backed by Wavemaker Partners, a Los Angeles firm that also operates the robots and automation-centered venture studio Wavemaker Labs.
Future Acres designed their new robot, Carry, to lug boxes of produce from the fields to the sorting departments.
The Food And Agricultural Policy Research Institute estimates farm income will drop 12% in 2021 while product costs climb - largely due to the cost of labor. California is the nation's largest produce producer and relies heavily on immigrant labor. Any large-scale introduction of robots on farms could change big agriculture, much in the same way robots altered car factories.
The company says adding just one robot can increase efficiency by 30%. And it pays itself off in just 80 days.
As the agricultural industry battles financial and environmental challenges, CEO Suma Reddy says her tech will ease the physical loads that slow down many farmers. "Back pain, twisted ankles and shoulder injuries no longer need to be the normal," Reddy said in a statement.
The robotics startup also says down the line it'll turn to other tech-driven solutions to measure pesticide use and crop health and track trends like food waste.
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Ceres Group Holdings is becoming corporate America's biggest cannabis dealmaker out of its Century City offices.
The venture and private equity firm this week announced that its special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, would take Atlanta-based cannabis producer Parallel public in a merger that will value the Canadian-listed company at $1.88 billion.
Parallel has about 42 retail stores outside of California, but has big plans for a big expansion into L.A. sometime in the next year or two.
Joe Crouthers is the CEO of Ceres and head executive of the SPAC that bought Parallel.
As Thanksgiving approached, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti implored residents to stay home and halt all nonessential travel as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
But on Thanksgiving Day, Peter Pham, one of L.A.'s most prominent early-stage investors and the co-founder of Science Inc, a Santa Monica startup studio and early-stage venture fund that manages over $100 million and recently launched a $310.5 million SPAC, posted a selfie of himself atop Las Vegas' High Roller ferris wheel.
He was clutching a can of Liquid Death, the bad boy-themed canned water brand that has improbably become Science's buzziest startup. Pham guzzles six cans a day, because he says he does not trust municipal tap water.
"I'm not afraid of dying," Pham told me recently. "There's risk for everything and COVID is a risk that I feel very confident in my ability to deal with. I could be wrong and that's OK. I am OK if I fucked up and I die from it."