Even though the only thing the robot can do now is pull weeds, aigen is adamant that it is not building a weed-destroying robot. He claims to be on a mission to terraform the land and says he has a way to make agriculture carbon negative. He must have made a compelling case, because he just announced a $4 million seed round led by NEAwith the participation of AgFunder, Global Founders Capital and ReGen Ventures.
The company is building autonomous solar-powered robots that can zoom into fields, using computer vision to tell friend from foe and plants from weeds. In its first incarnation, the robot — in a beautiful “hot dog / not hot dog” personification – simply walks around, covering up to three acres of farmland a day.
“My relatives are farmers in Minnesota, and I’ve been talking to them for a while. They are really having some problems with traditional farming approaches. Even die-hard people who have loved chemicals, who have loved farming the land and other practices that have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere for thousands of years are starting to realize, hey, maybe we should be open to other ways of doing this,” reflects Richard Wurden, CEO from Aigen. He is particularly passionate about reversing the carbon output of agriculture. “Right now, agriculture represents about 16% of carbon emissions. In the future, it has the potential to turn negative, reducing diesel emissions, soil compaction, chemical use and crop reduction.”
The basic premise that the startup makes is that, in general, photosynthesis is carbon negative: plants absorb COtwo from the air and turn it into sugars – – carbohydrates, to be exact. In fact, plants are taking carbon out of the air and putting it back into the earth. Aigen argues that by changing technology and the ways in which agriculture is done, carbon neutrality – or even negativity – is within reach. The weed-harvesting robot is just the first step on the company’s path, say the founders – to create something that has real value now in order to expand the platform and increasingly fulfill its mission down the road.
“We are collecting data through images. There are multiple cameras on the robot and we are using an onboard AI that we have pre-trained to identify plants and various objects. Once we know what we’re seeing, we remove or propagate the plants with two robotic arms underneath the robot,” explains Kenny Lee, the company’s COO, arguing in favor of the company’s smaller, lighter robots. “Heavy machinery compresses the soil, which means the roots grow sideways rather than downwards. That’s a problem, because you can’t put the carbon that plants capture deep into the soil. By using fewer tractors and large commercial devices, you can change the way farming works.”
“Aigen’s technology leverages the best AI and robotics to provide an elegant solution to several of humanity’s biggest problems,” said Andrew Schoen, partner at NEA. ”
The company declined to disclose the assessment of its fundraising.