Wavemaker Labs, a corporate venture studio and product development incubator, acquired the intellectual property (IP) from Abundant Robotics. Abundant Robotics, an agrobotics startup that spun out off SRI International in 2016, was developing a robot to harvest apples before it shut down in June. Wavemaker did not bring over any employees from Abundant Robotics. Terms of the deal are unknown.
Wavemaker portfolio company Future Acres is exploring how to leverage some of the IP to potentially enhance its Carry mobile robot. Carry is designed to transport up to 500 lbs of crops around a farm. Future Acres is looking at integrating Abundant’s computer vision and vacuum-based end effector technology into Carry, which currently doesn’t have manipulation capabilities.
Abundant’s apple-harvesting robot combined computer vision and a vacuum end-effector to select and pick ripe apples. It then transferred the fruit into a bin. The company claimed its robot could reach between 50-90% of apples on trees and pick an apple every two seconds. Abundant said it was targeting a pick rate of 1.5 seconds for the commercialized version of the robot. It also planned to broaden the type of fruit it picked in the future.
However, Abundant put up for sale all of its IP on June 29, 2021. In a liquidation memo, Abundant said it was unable to develop the market traction necessary to support its business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Abundant said its IP included a large body of vacuum manipulation patents, a patented sensory system to allow the vacuum to navigate obstructions, a patented vision system for identifying fruits and their quality, and several software patents for the machine’s automated operations.
Abundant also failed to raise another round of funding. It raised a total of $12 million since it was founded, but its $10 million Series A closed back in May 2017. It raised a $2 million Seed round from SRI Ventures in 2016.
Some of Abundant’s competitors include FFRobotics (Israel), Ripe Robotics (Australia) and Tevel (Israel). Tevel won a 2021 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award, produced by our sister publication Robotics Business Review, for its tethered drone that uses vision and an attached robotic arm and gripper to pick ripe fruit.
Suma Reddy, CEO of Future Acres, recently was a guest on The Robot Report Podcast. She discussed her love for agriculture, the challenges farmers face today, and how automation can help. She also discussed the product roadmap for Future Acres. You can listen to that interview below, starting at the 5:30 mark.
Wavemaker Labs was founded in 2011. Some of its other portfolio companies in the robotics space include Miso Robotics, which recently partnered with Caliburger on its robotic kitchen assistant, Graze Mowing, which is developing an autonomous lawn mower for commercial landscapers, and Piestro, a robotic pizza shop. Martin Buehler was named CTO of Wavemaker Labs in July 2020. Buehler is well known in the robotics industry, having previously worked in high-level roles at Boston Dynamics, Creator, Disney Imagineering, iRobot, Medtronic, and Vecna.
Abundant’s founders have all moved on. Curt Salisbury is now a principal research scientist at Amazon, Dan Steere is an independent consultant, as well as an advisor to a number of companies, including Savioke, and Michael Eriksen is a senior staff robotics engineer at Canvas Construction.
Future Acres has raised $1.25 million since it was founded in September 2020. That includes more than $1 million from a campaign that ends on Oct. 6 with SeedInvest, an equity crowdfunding platform.
Despite this shutdown, the agricultural robotics market has seen healthy investment in 2021. Most notably, Bear Flag Robotics, a developer of autonomous driving technology for tractors, was acquired by John Deere for $250 million. And Somerville, Mass.-based startup Root AI was acquired by AppHarvest for $60 million in April. Root AI was developing the Virgo harvesting robot for indoor farms. The robot could identify and harvest multiple crops, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more.
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