We first covered Traptic back in 2019, when it appeared as a Battlefield finalist on stage at Disrupt SF. Today, the South Bay robotics startup is announcing some major progress. For starters, it began commercial deployment of its strawberry-picking mobile robot early this month.
Traptic tells TechCrunch that Blazer-Wilkinson, a top-five U.S. strawberry producer, began to deploy the technology in June, the system working in tandem with human pickers. That follows a pilot in 2020, when many agriculture companies were seeking assistance amid pandemic-related shortages.
Even prior to COVID-19, labor shortages have resulted in tremendous waste. According to Traptic’s figures, roughly 10% of U.S. strawberries rot in the field, unpicked, resulting in up to $300 million in waste, annually. During the pandemic, there was an even larger crunch, as H-2A workers suffered from restricted travel.
The company’s acceleration comes thanks to an unannounced $5 million Series A from Collaborative Fund, Homebrew Ventures and K9 Ventures that arrived in late-2019, before COVID-19 was on the world’s radar. “We used the recent funding to run a successful pilot,” cofounder and CEO Lewis Anderson tells TechCrunch, “design and build our commercial-scale machine, and start our first paid deployment.” The latest round followed an early-stage $3 million raise in 2017 and $400K the year prior. The company has raised $8.4 million in total.
“As record heat waves force farmworkers indoors and stifle harvests this week, Traptic’s mission has become more timely than ever,” Collaborative Fund’s Craig Shapiro said in comment offered to TechCrunch. “The launch of their robotic strawberry picker in commercial fields is a big step forward for the $10 billion strawberry market, and a peek into the future of agricultural production more broadly. Collaborative is proud to get behind a technology that can heighten crop security while creating safer jobs across the food supply chain, and we’re confident that Traptic is the right team to see that vision through.”
Traptic’s system combines 3D cameras and AI vision with robotic arms capable of plucking the fragile fruit without damaging it. The company currently employees around a dozen people largely in robotics and engineering and is advised by Pieter Abbeel of UC Berkeley and Serge Belongie of Cornell.