Orchard Vision System turns farm equipment into AI-powered data collectors | Tech Crunch

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Agricultural robotics is not a new phenomenon. We've seen systems that pick apples and berries, kill weeds, plant trees, transport produce, and more. But while these functions are understood as core features of automated systems, the same is true here, as throughout technology: it's all about data. A huge part of the value proposition of any of these products is the actionable information their on-board sensors collect.

In a sense, the Orchard robotics system is eliminating the human in the middle. That's not to say there isn't still a ton of potential value in automating these tasks during labor shortages, but a young startup system lowers the barrier to entry with a sensing module that attaches to exciting hardware like tractors and other farm vehicles.

While many farmers are happy to embrace technologies that can increase their yields and fill roles that are difficult to staff, fully automated robotic systems are too costly to take the first step.

As the name suggests, Orchard is starting with a focus on apple crops. The system's cameras can take up to 100 images per second, recording information about each tree's passes. Orchard OS software uses AI to create maps with collected data. It includes every bud/fruit on every tree, their distribution and even the color of the apple.

“Our cameras film trees from bud to bloom and use advanced computer vision and machine learning models we've developed to collect accurate data on hundreds of millions of fruits,” says founder and CEO Charlie Wu. “This is a monumental step forward from traditional methods, which rely on 100 fruit samples collected manually.”

Mapped courtesy of on-board GPS, farmers get a complete picture of their crop's success rate, down to tree location and size, to within two inches. The institute was founded in 2022 at Cornell University. Despite its young age, it has already started testing the technology with farmers. Last season's field testing was successful enough to pique the interest of real investors.

This week, the Seattle-based firm announced a $3.2 million seed round led by General Catalyst. Humba Ventures, Soma Capital, Correlation Ventures, VU Venture Partners and Genius Ventures also participated in the raise, which follows a previously unannounced $600,000 pre-seed.

It depends on increasing the number of funds, accelerating R&D and Orchard's go-to-market efforts.



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