Charlie Andersen of AGR Augean Robotics has an integrated approach to horti production processes. Rather than replacing humans, AGR’s approach is to alleviate today’s agronomy inefficiencies by augmenting farmhands with mechanical donkeys called Burros.
“We are doing something different,” boasts the entrepreneur, “taking a stepped or phased approach towards full autonomy, beginning with a collaborative robotic platform called Burro that helps people work more productively today, collects tons of data, over time can be modularly expanded towards fully autonomous farming in a variety of different settings, and which we can get into the market today, not 5 years from now.”
After observing how table grapes were picked and collected, Andersen launched a self-driving wheelbarrow to autonomously steer through vineyard rows as a shopping cart for harvesters. He further elaborates, “We’ve found that, like Kiva systems in Amazon Warehouses, if you automate in field transit you can enable people doing high-value/high-dexterity work like picking to be much more productive – a crew of ten people harvesting table grapes with one of our robots running them back and forth can pick 40% more fruit per day, and the payback on one of our robots is accordingly just 30 and 40 days.”
Long-term he hopes to translate his success in table grapes to other labor-intensive crops such as berries and orchard fruits. In fact, his biggest worry as a start-up is scaling his team to keep up with demand. “Every grower that buys our robots starts asking about 5 other use cases, often in different crops, that we didn’t imagine our Burros going in to, and we have to ensure that our autonomy functions consistently and reliably everywhere,” the Chief Executive quipped.