SWARMFARM Robotics has raised $12 million in offshore and Australian capital to develop and grow the SwarmBot platform and its SwarmConnect operating system.
The company’s Series A funding round was led by Emmertech, an agtech fund from Conexus Venture Capital based in Canada, and includes new investment from Tribe Global Ventures and Access Capital.
Also joining the round are SwarmFarm’s existing investors including Tenacious Ventures, and GrainInnovate, the Grains Research and Development Corporation venture-capital fund managed by Artesian.
Founded at Gindie in Central Queensland in 2015, SwarmFarm equipment has already covered more than 500,000ha through 64,000 hours of operation, and its autonomous robots have reduced pesticide inputs by an estimated 780 tonnes.
Emmertech managing director Sean O’Connor said Emmertech saw the SwarmFarm team as pioneering the future of autonomous agriculture.
“The key trait that drove our eagerness to lead this round was the farmer-centric approach this team is built around and the truly exceptional results their robots have achieved,” Mr O’Connor said.
“We met with several farmers who were putting upwards of 3000 hours a year on their SwarmBot, often leaving them out in the fields for over 24 hours at a time.
“We believe there’s a future where SwarmBots can be found on farms across North America and worldwide.”
GRDC head of business development Fernando Felquer said GRDC was proud to support the SwarmFarm team as it unlocked the potential of integrated agronomy.
“What makes SwarmFarm so attractive to us is that the founders are Australian grain growers developing autonomous solutions from the ground up with Australian farming systems in mind, and the technology has global application.”
Integrated approach takes shape
SwarmFarm CEO Andrew Bate said there was enormous demand for autonomy in agriculture, but most solutions on offer unlocked minimal potential.
“The current equipment providers believe that farmers just want to be plucked from the cab or replaced by robotic arms,” Mr Bate said.
“We believe that farmers want more,” Mr Bate said.
“They want a technology ecosystem built to address the issues in their locality, a farm-centric system that leaves the lowest possible footprint on their fields, helping them do more with less.
“They want integrated autonomy, so that’s what we’re building.”
Mr Bate said while many companies were making driverless tractors and developing niche robotics for agriculture, a third category of autonomy was needed to combine the robot and the application in a framework that allowed growers to customise equipment, and developers to fast-track innovation.
This need has prompted SwarmFarm to develop integrated autonomy to incorporate the full potential of driverless technology by providing specialty robotics solutions within an open platform.
“It’s the best of both worlds; for the farmer, we provide customised autonomy in a box; for the developer, we provide a streamlined path to the grower with a tight feedback loop.”
SwarmFarm has customers across Australia, and works with farm-equipment developers, including: WEED-IT; Bilberry; Weedseeker; Hayes Spraying; Rasmussen Brothers Engineering; Goldacres, and Croplands.
The business plans to hire for new roles in its Queensland and New South Wales offices to support growth enabled by this latest funding round announced yesterday.
Born in the paddock
SwarmFarm was born on the Bates’ family farm with the aim of allowing them and others to grow better crops and the optimal amount of food on their land without putting down excessive amounts of chemicals or acquiring larger and larger equipment.
“We hit a point where we just said enough is enough,” Mr Bate said.
“We saw our input costs increasing, our equipment costs rising as we bought larger equipment, our dependence on pesticides rising, and our yields declining despite it all.
“There was a day when we sat down and realised that this wasn’t an equation that needed incremental change; we needed an entirely new farming system, and SwarmFarm was the solution.”
The SwarmFarm team saw a future where developers could create specialised tools that could be attached to swarms of small, nimble, autonomous robot platforms that created new farming practices through facilitating collaboration between farmers and technologists.
This has been the foundation for SwarmConnect.
“We envision a future where the most promising minds in technology are encouraged to turn toward solving the challenges faced by modern agriculture.”
“We also believe in a future where there is no longer such a severe distinction between farmers and technologists, but rather a new breed of farmer-technologists.
“This funding helps us to move toward that future by meeting more of the global demand for our product and facilitating the growth of our SwarmConnect network of developers.”