Robotic farming latest Roush Enterprises venture

LIVONIA—Self-driving robots are coming to the world’s farms.

At least, that’s the goal of a new partnership between the Livonia-based engineering and prototyping firm Roush and FarmWise, a San Francisco-based agricultural technology developer.

The two companies announced Wednesday that they will collaborate to develop and test autonomous vegetable weeders in Michigan. The initial contract between FarmWise and Roush includes the development of a dozen of prototypes of the self-driving robots in 2019, with scaling to additional units in 2020.

Thomas Palomares, co-founder and chief technology officer of FarmWise, said there are many reasons why his company chose the Michigan manufacturer Roush to develop its autonomous robots.

Michigan is well-known throughout the world for its manufacturing and automotive industries, the advanced technology expertise and state-of-the-art manufacturing practices,” Palomares said. “These are many of the key ingredients we need to manufacture and test our machines. We were connected to Roush through support from PlanetM, and as a technology startup, joining forces with a large and well-respected legacy automaker is critical to support the scale of our manufacturing plan.”

As growers are looking for new ways to optimize crop production, FarmWise uses the latest advances in artificial intelligence and robotics to offer plant-level farming as-a-service.

Its autonomous farming robots provid3 high-precision weeding and thinning with the ability to replace herbicides, save cost on labor and increase yield. They will also work reliably around the clock, and adapt seamlessly to different crops, improving farming efficiency altogether.

“Technology is rapidly transforming every industry across the globe,” said Roush CEO Evan Lyall. “The agricultural industry may be one of the most in need to make bold new advances to create efficiencies and produce safer products for consumers. We work with the best engineers to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-life products as we test these tractors in the field. We’re proud to support industry pioneers like FarmWise to solve the burning issues farmers face while building the new paradigm for the future of food production.”

“This collaboration showcases the opportunities that result from connecting startups like FarmWise with Michigan-based companies like Roush that bring their manufacturing know-how to making these concepts a reality,” said Trevor Pawl, group vice president of PlanetM, Pure Michigan Business Connect and International Trade at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “We are excited to see this collaboration come to fruition. It is a great example of how Michigan can bring together emerging companies globally seeking prototype and production support with our qualified manufacturing base in the state.”

Founded in 2016, FarmWise is supported by a team of 20 farming and AI experts from MIT, Stanford and Columbia The company collaborates with growers in the development of its products. FarmWise received $5.7 million in seed funding in late 2017 from seven investors, including San Francisco-based Lemnos VC, Basis Set Ventures, and Valley Oak Investments, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Playground Global, and Los Gatos, Calif.-based Thrive Agtech Accelerator and SVG Partners, and Menlo Park, Calif.-based Felicis Ventures.

Roush is a subsidiary of Roush Enterprises Inc. Named a Crain’s Detroit Fast 50 in 2018, Roush provides engineering, testing, prototyping and manufacturing services to the mobility, aerospace, defense and theme park industries. Other corporate subsidiaries include Roush Performance, developer and manufacturer of performance vehicles and products for the automotive aftermarket; and Roush CleanTech, developer and manufacturer of alternative fuel systems for the fleet vehicle market.

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