AI-powered weed destroying startup harvests $27M round, farmers say laser-blasting machine saves time and cuts pesticide use – GeekWire

(Carbon Robotics Photos)

Investors are putting more cash behind the self-driving weed-zapping machines made by Carbon Robotics that are attracting attention from farmers across the world.

The Seattle-based startup just landed $27 million to help meet demand. Its AI-powered autonomous robot uses computer vision software to identify weeds growing in fields, and then zaps them with precision 150-watt thermal bursts from lasers.

The company has already sold out of its 2021 and 2022 models of the robot, reporting more than $20 million in bookings.

Its technology gives farmers a way to eliminate weeds without pesticides; to improve soil quality; to grow more organic produce; and to address both the ongoing labor shortage and increasing wages.

James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce in southwest New Mexico and a fourth generation farmer, said his farm has traditionally been “intense” pesticide users. It has moved to more sustainable farming methods over the past several years, and Carbon’s robot checked a lot of boxes.

“It saves money, it saves time, and it saves our soil biology,” Johnson said this week via phone, on a short break from onion harvesting.

Carbon Robotics CEO Paul Mikesell stands out in a farm field to watch the company’s weed-zapping robot in action. (Carbon Robotics Photo)

Founded in 2018, Carbon is led by Isilon Systems co-founder Paul Mikesell, who sold Isilon for $2.25 billion in 2010 and spent time at Uber and Facebook before embarking on another entrepreneurial journey.

“It’s definitely been the most fun I’ve had,” Mikesell told GeekWire this week. “I really wanted to do something fundamental. Growing food is one of the most important activities that humans do.”

The company, previously known as Maka Autonomous Robots, is not yet profitable. Mikesell, who studied computer science at the University of Washington, declined to provide revenue metrics. Carbon has 20 employees and expects to triple headcount within 18 months.

Anthos Capital, Ignition Capital, Fuse, and Voyager Capital invested in the latest round. Total funding to date is $36 million.

“Carbon Robotics is fundamentally changing how farmers weed fields and has the potential to be this millennium’s Deere & Company,” Erik Benson of Voyager Capital said in a statement.

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