September 28, 2021

Burro 400x275Burro, formerly known as Augean Robotics, has announced it raised $10.9 million in a Series A funding round. The company’s mobile and collaborative robots provide outdoor assistance for work that people no longer want to do, as well as lay the foundation for more comprehensive automation later.

Growers of labor-intensive specialty crops such as table grapes, berries and nursery crops are largely un-mechanized, Burro said. Out of necessity this requires that growers employ about 88% of U.S. crop workers to do a diverse set of hard-to-mechanize tasks. This workforce has shrunk rapidly in recent years. For example, California, where the bulk of specialty crops in the U.S. are grown, has seen a 40% decline in the number of farmworkers over the past decade, driven by the strenuous nature of farm labor, increasing regulations, and rising wages. Burro said growers are searching for autonomous systems that can reduce their labor needs.

The Philadelphia-based company said with the funding, it will expand to more than 500 robots next year to meet demand from existing and new customers. Burro said it is dramatically increasing the size of its team, while also expanding the capabilities of its product. Along with adding the dexterity needed to pick table grapes, Burro plans to extend its mobility autonomy into nursery and berry markets.

The Burro robot features a novel and patent-pending approach called Pop Up Autonomy, which means they work immediately out of the box, enabling everyone in a working environment to become an operator. They do not require a centralized control or installation of burdensome infrastructure, the company said. Instead, the robots use computer vision and artificial intelligence to learn on the fly and navigate autonomously from A to B while carrying various payloads.

“Many autonomy companies beginning in agriculture have focused first on autonomous tractors, autonomous weeding, and harvesting, where they try to comprehensively automate incredibly hard technical tasks, and often struggle to scale into a large market,” said Charlie Andersen, CEO of Burro. “We’ve started instead with collaborative people-scale robots that help people by moving heavy things around. The beauty of this approach is that we can scale today around a ubiquitous pain point in the most labor-intensive areas of agriculture, while also allowing our platform to capture data and learn about many environments – providing the foundation for us to scale to countless other applications.”

Burro said it currently has 90 robots in table grape fields covering 100 to 300 miles per day autonomously, six days a week. Instead of each farmworker walking several miles a day with a 250-pound wheelbarrow full of grapes in the heat, workers can stand in the shade and pick/pack with a continuous flow of fruit out of the field. Burro said its robots are already transforming worker productivity – one Burro enables six-plus people to harvest up to 48% more fruit per day, for a less-than-two-month ROI.

The funding round was led by S2G Ventures and Toyota Ventures, with F-Prime Capital and the Cibus Enterprise Fund joining, along with existing investors Radicle Growth and ffVC.

“Charlie and the Burrow team have big plans to drive their product roadmap from a growing customer base, harden their technology through real-world use, and offer extended platform services that farmers need every day,” said Jim Adler, founding managing director at Toyota Ventures. “Burro is already gaining traction in the big, broken, but increasingly accessible agricultural market.”

In addition to the $3 billion table grapes market and berries and nursery crop space, Burro said it aims to tackle the $1.2 trillion U.S. outdoor labor market, where automation can address the most pressing challenges. The goal is to produce robots that can navigate anywhere, perceive anything, and use dexterity to do increasingly complex work outdoors.

“Burro’s product is in high demand because the team is hyper-focused on understanding and solving real agriculture use cases in a way that is simple and accessible,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, managing director and chief investment officer at S2G Ventures. “We are thrilled to back Charlie and the team at Burro as they work side-by-side with growers to improve the social, environmental and economic outcomes of farm operations.” As part of the round, Krishnan will join Burro’s board of directors.

For more details on the company and its robots, visit the Burro website here.

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