AppHarvest, an applied technology company building indoor farms across eastern USA, has acquired farming startup Root AI.
The deal is valued at around US$60m (£43.6m), with US$10m (£7.3m) in cash and the remainder coming from AppHarvest stock
The acquisition of Root AI and its robotic universal harvester, Virgo, is expected to provide AppHarvest with a baseline of harvesting support.
According to AppHarvest, crop care specialists will be able to focus on more complex tasks as they work alongside the agribot.
Virgo is reportedly the world’s first universal harvester and can be configured to identify and harvest multiple crops of varying sizes including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more delicate fruits, such as strawberries.
According to Root AI, Virgo has established the world’s largest data set of tomato images, enabling it to identify more than 50 varieties in multiple growing environments and at varying stages of maturity to learn how and when to harvest.
AppHarvest said it expects the data the robots collect as they harvest to enable it to precisely predict yield and optimise overall operations of the controlled environment agriculture facilities.
Jonathan Webb, CEO of AppHarvest, said: “Farming as we’ve known it is broken because of the increasing number of variables such as extreme weather, droughts, fire and contamination by animals that make our food system unreliable.
“Indoor farming solves for many of those challenges, and the data gathered can exponentially deliver more insights that help us predict and control crop quality and yield.
“One of the key challenges in agriculture is accurately predicting yield. Many downstream decisions from work scheduling to transportation to retail planning are based on that.
“Any deviation between projection and actual yield can result in fire drills for numerous functions to adjust for the change, and AI can help solve for that.”
Following the acquisition, Root AI co-founder Josh Lessing will take on the role of chief technology officer at AppHarvest.
He will lead the continuing development of the agribots and their AI capabilities for a network of indoor farms.
Root AI co-founder Ryan Knopf will join AppHarvest as vice president of technology.