Have you heard the one about an ag guy and a DARPA roboticist meeting up at a bar?
It’s not the beginning of a joke but rather the genesis of Verdant Robotics, which brings technology from autonomous cars and extraterrestrial navigation to agriculture, empowering farmers with the most advanced robotic innovation.
“The two [founders, Curtis Garner and Dr. Gabe Sibley,] envisioned an advanced robotic agricultural system that can not only automate dirty and dangerous fieldwork but enable growers to participate in this century’s computational revolution,” said Brent Shedd, chief operating officer for the Hayward, California based company. “It was started because farmers have an existential need to get costs under control, and robotic weeding and spraying is economically viable now. Sensors are cheap enough; algorithms are here; and the necessary computational speed is available.”
Brent Shedd, COO, Verdant Robotics
Working with on-farm experts, the company applies its expertise in machine learning, AI, perception, and robotics technology to create solutions that help growers ensure a sustainable food supply for all.
"[Verdant Robotics' founders, Curtis Garner and Dr. Gabe Sibley,] envisioned an advanced robotic agricultural system that can not only automate dirty and dangerous fieldwork but enable growers to participate in this century’s computational revolution." - Brent Shedd
Customers have been asking to purchase Verdant Robotics' machines for many years now, and in 2023, it finally decided to accommodate those requests, shifting from being a service provider to selling its machines this year.
“We’re excited to partner with our customers in this new relationship,” Shedd said. “We’ll be adding thinning to the robot’s capabilities very soon as well as a number of other functionalities in 2024.”
Verdant Robotics’ team includes some of the world’s best engineers and most experienced farmers who are focused on creating the next generation of transformative on-farm technology.
"We’ll be adding thinning to the robot’s capabilities very soon as well as a number of other functionalities in 2024.” - Brent Shedd
“We offer the organic industry a vast reduction in the cost to weed their crops, along with the associated risk reduction of being able to do so whenever they need to versus whenever a hand crew is available or a service provider has availability,” Shedd said. “The Verdant Smart Sprayer can work 24/7 and requires only one tractor driver on a tractor they already own!”
To give organic customers its very best service, the company partnered with UCANR weed research scientists to trial, test, and optimize the correct organic herbicide and adjuvant package for superior weed termination.
“We’re also working with UC Davis under a federal grant to characterize the social and economic consequences,” Shedd said. “We are exporting organic materials to be used in conventional fields because we spray 96 percent less materials and make it economically viable to do such.”
As the company heads into the next year, one of its biggest challenges is working on scaling the manufacturing of its machines and establishing its distribution network.
"The Verdant Smart Sprayer can work 24/7 and requires only one tractor driver on a tractor they already own!” - Brent Shedd
Still, there are plenty of opportunities ahead, such as continuously adding new crops to its AI model and working with growers on new and innovative ways to use the Smart Sprayer in their operations.
“The machines are software defined, so we can increase the functionality via over-the-air updates like your Tesla or your smartphone,” Shedd said.
Since its beginning, the company’s philosophy has been about transformational change in agriculture through intelligent robotics.
"The machines are software defined, so we can increase the functionality via over-the-air updates like your Tesla or your smartphone." - Brent Shedd
“Our strategy for this year is really about shifting to sales and getting the word out about the availability of units for purchase,” Shedd said. “We’ll be mostly focusing on growers in the California, Arizona, and Pacific Northwest area for 2024, then expanding nationally and internationally through our distribution partner. It’s important that we have sales and service near wherever our customers are located.”
Looking ahead, Verdant Robotics is striving to make the company the ag employer of choice for both Silicon Valley and Salinas Valley talent.
“We’ve got an impressive mix of AI/ML/CV experts working alongside multigenerational ag specialists to build exciting equipment and software that doesn’t just help with the labor shortage and environmental issues we face but [looks to create] transformative solutions for the industry,” Shedd said.