2022 SPECIALTY CROP AUTOMATION REPORT
IS CROP ROBOTICS MAKING PROGRESS?
The Landscape, and the impressive number of com- panies focused on developing crop robotics solutions, gives reason for optimism. The drivers for increased automation in agriculture are readily apparent and are likely to continue to increase over time. This presents a big opportunity for robotic solutions that can help farmers mitigate their production challenges – as long as those solutions perform well and at reasonable cost in the real world of commercial farm operations. The companies involved in developing solutions vary across a breadth of crop systems and tasks and have an increasing commercial focus. The market is still nascent, with companies continuing to navigate the difficult
process of creating and deploying robust solutions at scale in this challenging industry. However, there is more room for optimism and more tangible progress being made now than ever before. The so-called “Valley of Death” in crop robotics that so many start-ups have failed to cross appears to be narrowing and becoming less ominous. This is in great part due to the break- neck speed of technological progress and the more seasoned and talented teams from across the broader robotics sector now looking at agricultural applications. While a robotic revolution in crop production is likely still some time off, the evolution is promising, and we expect to see more successful crop robotics companies in the not-too-distant future.
6.3 CURRENT STATUS OF SPECIALTY CROP AUTOMATION START-UPS
The Mixing Bowl’s market observations on the status of broader crop automation are largely confirmed by this year’s survey of start-ups focused on specialty crops. Indeed, there is clear progress since last year’s inaugu- ral report in all three key metrics (see Figure 42). With regard to the most recent funding round completed, a higher percentage of start-ups have completed Round B or C financing, while a lower percentage of start-ups have completed only seed funding compared to last year. The same is true with respect to the number of paying customers: a higher percentage of start-ups have a high number of paying customers (i.e. more than 20), while a lower percentage of start-ups have
zero paying customers than in 2021. Start-ups have also made clear progress in the number of robots they have in service. A higher percentage of start-ups have more than 50 robots, 11-50 robots, or even 6-10 robots than in 2021. These developments indicate that start-ups in the spe- cialty crop automation space are making good progress in the commercialization of their technologies. While progress was observed across all key harvest, pre-har- vest and harvest-assist activities, it was particularly strong in weeding and thinning activity, where market traction metrics are most mature.
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