Israeli startup, Bluewhite, has secured $39 million in funding to advance its development of autonomous robots that can be retrofitted to any tractor to operate it autonomously, reports TechCrunch.
The robots are to be sold as a Robots-as-a-Service play instead of one-off products, with customers able to take the service on a five-year contract.
Bluewhite plans to use the funding to further invest in R&D and to enhance its autonomous hardware technology, which currently is programmed to work across a variety of field types and tractors.
The current technology uses AI-based algorithms to understand what is being seen in the field. That data works alongside big data analytics to provide customers with dashboards and insights to better understand their crops.
To date, the startup‘s tractor robots have been best received in the US, with a mixture of family farms and 20 of the biggest permanent crop growers in the country, mainly based in California and Washington. Its robots have covered 50,000 hours of autonomous farming activity across over 150,000 acres.
The company’s CEO and co-founder, Ben Alfi, says Bluewhite aims to help fill one of the biggest gaps in the agriculture industry, which is the lack of people who want to work in it compared to the market’s demands. He said: “Labor, labor, labor: it is the biggest need.
“We want to maximize the existing assets people have.”
How will Bluewhite’s robots improve farming?
Bluewhite’s robots will predominantly improve the general costs of operating a tractor annually. The average cost of running a legacy tractor is around $100,000 a year, taking into account maintenance, fuel and other costs.
However, while some farmers are slowly bringing in newer and more cost-effective equipment, the rate of replacement is only around 10%, which is where Bluewhite comes in.
It can be set up in one day and is described by Alfi as an “IKEA kit” that is sent to a local service center to be fitted, which in turn reduces a tractor’s downtime.
On top of that, the company claims their robots and its accompanying platform will allow farmers to run their operations “easily from anywhere.” They claim users will be able to “spray, disc, mow and more with the same tractor.”
Tractors with Bluewhite robots will still be able to be operated by humans in specific situations.
Researchers forecast the market for autonomous tractors will be worth around $11.5 billion by 2030.
Featured Image: Bluewhite