Artificial Intelligence: Indoor Farming Company AppHarvest Acquires Root AI

Root AI makes intelligent robots for high-tech indoor farming.

AppHarvest, Inc (NASDAQ: APPH), an indoor and sustainable farming company, announced today its acquisition of Root AI, a startup that develops AI-powered robots for use in indoor farming and harvesting. The deal includes Root AI’s signature robotic harvester dubbed Virgo.

AppHarvest will pay about $60 million for the acquisition, comprising $10 million in cash and the rest in shares. (Intrado GlobeNewswire)

Virgo

Root’s robots are capable of dexterous manipulation. The Virgo uses soft grippers, 3D sensors, infrared lasers, and AI to harvest different kinds of crops, especially tomatoes.

The robot’s AI has been trained on millions of images and it uses motion sensing to guide its three-fingered arm past vines, and unripe fruit.

It maps the fruit, for example, tomatoes, and assesses their orientation and ripeness. It then fixes on the least obstructive and fastest route to pick the crop.

It detects and picks the target fruit without damaging it in a manner very similar to humans – because its three compliant fingers, robotic arm, and wrist-twisting motion are designed to mimic human biomechanics.

“The acquisition of Root AI and its robotic universal harvester, Virgo, is expected to provide AppHarvest with a baseline of harvesting support working alongside crop care specialists focused on more complex tasks,” AppHarvest said in a statement.

Data

Another pay-off from the robots is data. They collect information that can help evaluate crop health, precisely predict yield, and optimize overall operations of the indoor farm.

According to the announcement, over the past three years, Virgo has collected the world’s largest data set of tomato images to enable it to identify more than 50 varieties in multiple growing environments and at varying stages of maturity to learn how and when to harvest.

Data from the indoor farming operations can be useful in real-time to growers for actions such as detecting and eliminating pests naturally, as well as successfully grow chemical pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.

“A piece of food—whether that’s a tomato or a berry or a cucumber—is an outcome from many variables that are part of the growing process. Enhanced data collection for each plant through the robot can lead to insights that teach us precisely how to design better, more resilient food systems that are reliable and that produce more food with fewer resources,“ said Root AI co-founder and CEO Josh Lessing.

He will assume the role of Chief Technology Officer for AppHarvest where he will take the lead in continuing to develop the robots and their AI capabilities for the network of indoor farms that AppHarvest is building.

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