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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