New financing: Aigen, a startup developing solar-powered robots for weed control and soil regeneration, has raised $4 million in venture capital. NEA led the initial round with the participation of AgFunder, Global Founders Capital and ReGen Ventures. Kirkland, Washington based AG Tech was launched in 2020.
founders: Co-founder Rich Worden was one of the first engineers at Pure Watercraft in Seattle, an electric boat company recently acquired by General Motors worth $600 million. After that, Wurden worked as a mechanical engineer at Tesla for five years before returning to Pure Watercraft in 2018 for an additional two years.
Co-founder Kenny Lee has a background in cybersecurity and co-founded a startup that was acquired in 2017.
The two met through a Slack community called Climate Action. The company has five employees, and the number of employees could triple by the end of the year.
Technology: Aigen is building small robots that use artificial intelligence to independently navigate crop rows and identify and remove weeds using mechanical weapons. The AI can be trained to leave the benign grasses that help retain carbon. The founders said the growing seasons coincide with sunrise, so solar energy is a viable energy source. Robots carry batteries for more power.
The team is testing its prototype with sugar beet growers in Idaho. They will begin alpha testing with the new hardware later this year, and move to beta testing with first customers in 2023.
The competition: There are similar startups in space, including Carbon Robotics, which is deploying larger robotic machines that work with laser weeding. The Seattle-based company has raised $36 million since its launch in 2018.
While the Carbon Robotics machine can process 16 acres per day to three acres of Aigen, the robots from Aigen weigh less and won’t compact the soil, plus they don’t generate additional carbon emissions thanks to solar energy, the company says. The Aigen robot will be less expensive.
taking: While the prototypes focus on weeds, the goal is to create a device that can collect data on a variety of parameters, including identifying insects and diseases and measuring soil nutrient and carbon content. Measuring carbon levels can help farmers earn extra money selling carbon offsets if they can reliably calculate how much carbon is being captured.
Wurden switched from electric vehicles to ag technology because of the huge opportunities for climate benefits. In addition to eliminating carbon emissions, he said, “With agriculture, you have the ability to eliminate carbon emissions.”