Eyeing vision-based autonomy for farm equipment, Bonsai Robotics raises $10.5M

One can’t accuse Bonsai Robotics of lacking focus. The Bay Area-based firm is starting with trees – specifically nut trees. Like most labor-intensive sectors these days, farms have suffered from a profound lack of available workers, so the startup had began striking deals with OEMs to outfit heavy farming equipment with its vision-based autonomy.

This morning, Bonsai announced a $10.5 million seed round, led by Acre Venture Partners and featuring E14, Congruent, Serra Ventures, Fall Line Capital, SNR Ventures and Andros. The seed round brings the company’s total raise up to $13.5 million.

Asked about the large price tag for a seed round, founder and CEO  Tyler Niday tells TechCrunch, “Robotics businesses require more capital earlier in their lifecycle to come to market as we have product and a sales model that is more complex than the average SaaS company – we’ve observed many robotics businesses fail from lack of capital early in their lifecycle and we’re determined to be here for the long run.”

Niday says the funding will go toward building out Bonsai’s R&D and go to market strategy, as it focuses on OEMs and dealers. With a headcount of less than 20, some of the funded will also go toward expanding its team.

The first product to utilize Bonsai’s tech is Shockwave X, produced by Orchard Machinery Corporation. OMC’s history dates back to 1961, when it had began producing hydraulic tree shakers to harvest prunes. Bonsai’s system effectively turns OMC’s Shockwave line into autonomous harvesters.

“OMC is currently taking initial orders for the Bonsai autonomy service on the ShockwaveX,” says Niday. “We have been collecting data for all fourteen months we’ve been in existence as a company, which meant that upon delivery of the first ShockwaveX we were running the autonomy system on it within two weeks, with special thanks to Trinitas Farming for giving us an orchard where we could safely test to the absolute limit.”

Between the aforementioned labor shortages and an aging population of farmers, ag-tech is a relatively low hanging fruit for automation. The other key benefit is that autonomous farm equipment doesn’t have to account for a fraction of the variables of a self-driving car. Also, if the system doesn’t do exactly what it’s supposed to, the risk of grievous bodily injury is far lower than on a crowded city street.

Niday says the company has also begun demoing a tractor system using its tech. Meanwhile, the second ShockwaveX just recently came off the assembly line.

Bonsai declined to disclose its valuation.