TerraClear, a robotics company working toward building a fully autonomous rock picker, announced on Wednesday Series A funding of $25 million.
The company has developed a system that uses a drone to map the size and location of rocks in a field and a rock-picking implement to clear the rocks from the field.
The early version of the rock picker is an attachment that hooks onto a compact track loader or skid steer and will soon be compatible with front-end loaders on tractors. The vision is to integrate artificial intelligence and computer vision with a fully autonomous rock picker, creating a “Roomba” for rocks.
The infusion of funding was led by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, bringing the company’s total funding to $38 million.
“Madrona was one of the primary investors in my last company. They are really phenomenal investors,” Brent Frei, TerraClear founder and CEO, said.
That company, Smartsheet, is a successful software company, and Frei serves on its board of directors.
“The TerraClear team has incredible passion and expertise in both the customer base and the technology needed to address this huge problem for farmers,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group.
“Rock picking fits into the category of dull, dangerous and dirty. It’s a perfect application of robotics and AI, and we are excited to back this team and mission,” he said.
Frei grew up on a farm in Grangeville, Idaho, and returned to help on the farm in 2016 after a successful high-tech career. The back-breaking chore of rock picking led him to pursue development of an automated rock picker.
Three years of research and development and $10 million led to an implement that picks an average of 400 rocks per hour and can pick up rocks of up to 300 pounds with the touch of a button.
Not only does it save back-breaking work but it prevents costly damage to farming equipment. It also minimizes compaction and soil disturbance and works in any field condition.
The influx of capital will allow TerraClear to do five things, Frei said.
They include doing more of what the company is already doing, refining the field map, expanding the data TerraClear collects, making the physical picker more durable and easy to use and continuing the company’s progress toward full autonomy, he said.
“Obviously, we’ll grow the team to continue to do all these things,” he said.
TerraClear currently has 25 full-time employees and several interns in Grangeville, Idaho, and Bellevue, Wash. He expects the company to bring on 5 to 10 additional full-time employees over the next year.
The company distributed 10 physical pickers at cost this year to early adopters to get feedback. It will distribute 40 more late this summer and early fall, also offering those at cost to get more feedback.
Frei said the physical picker will cost about $25,000, and said he doesn’t know what the fully automated picker will sell for as he hasn’t yet partnered with a company to build the automated vehicle.
He hopes to have a fully autonomous prototype in the field next year and anticipates production in two years.
The rock picker is currently available for pre-order. For more information, visit: www.terraclear.com .