Of the many challenges facing our world today, there are few more essential than food — only air and water are more foundational on Maslow’s hierarchy. Labor shortages in the agricultural industry are well-known, and there is no shortage of tech startups attempting to improve farm productivity and efficiency. This is a booming sector for investment that is seeing record growth year-over-year.
However, many solutions, while promising on paper, aren’t ready for prime time. Fully autonomous tractors are predicted to be years away. Fruit-picking robots seem like the perfect solution, but picking is deceptively difficult for robots which doesn’t generalize well to multiple crops. Farmers can’t wait for such robots to become perfected and affordable.
These are a few of the reasons why I’m so excited to announce our recent investment in Burro, an autonomous mobility platform that is solving real problems for real farmers — right now. Using computer vision, GPS, and artificial intelligence, Burro’s robots follow workers around, navigating autonomously while carrying their cargo. Burro automates a critical aspect of crop collection, and through collaboration with humans, boosts overall productivity.
Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Burro was founded in 2017 by CEO Charlie Andersen, CTO Terry Scott, and robotic software engineer Vibhor Sood. Charlie’s belief is that tedious farm labor should be automated first. This insight comes from his firsthand experience growing up on a fruit, vegetable, and livestock farm. So, Burro tackles a very basic, but labor-intensive task that is widely needed: an easy-to-use, cargo-carrying mobile platform. Burro’s system can be up and running in 30 minutes, without needing to install infrastructure or hire remote robot operators.
When we see startups attempting a new market entry, one of our first questions is if the market is big, broken, and accessible to disruption. We assess if the team, product, and business model can potentially dominate that big, broken, and accessible market. Charlie, his team, and the Burro product are already showing traction in fitting the big, broken, and increasingly accessible agricultural market.
The agtech space is not crowded yet, leaving an opportunity to start with common, valuable use-cases. Burro’s first platform service, mobility, is clearly useful to farmers. But Charlie and team have big plans to learn from their growing customer base, harden their technology through real-world use, and offer extended platform services that farmers need every day.
We’re proud to co-lead Burro’s Series A round along with S2G Ventures, and we look forward to supporting the team as they continue to expand. Visit the Burro website and the Toyota Ventures portfolio page to learn more.