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Harvest Automation raises $7.8 million more for plant-toting robots

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 18, 2011 08:00 AM

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Harvest Automation likes to say it is in the "automated material handling" business. The company's solution is "flexible and scalable," "fault tolerant," and "intuitive."

But it's a lot more descriptive to say that the Billerica company is breeding an army of robotic farmhands. The current generation are designed to lug around potted plants as they grow, but Harvest believes that as much as 40 percent of the manual labor performed in the agricultural industry today could be done by bots. And investors seem to be persuaded that it's time to modernize farms and nurseries: Harvest is planning to announce today that it has raised an additional $7.8 million in funding. The new round is being led by Entrée Capital of London and Tel Aviv. (I shot a video of the company's earliest prototypes in 2008, and wrote in 2010 about their initial round of funding, which totaled $5.3 million.)

Harvest chief executive Charlie Grinnell says that this summer, the company packed a van with three of their prototype bots and traveled to eleven nurseries and greenhouses around the country for, well, field trials. "All eleven growers gave us deposits on their first purchases, which was really encouraging," he says.

The new funding will help get Harvest's product launched sometime in 2012, Grinnell says. Harvest is targeting a price of between $25,000 and $50,000 per unit. The company has 30 employees, and is building a new indoor test facility for its robo-laborers near its Billerica headquarters.

Here's a recent Wired story on Harvest with the clever headline, "These May Be the Droids Farmers are Looking For." It includes the video below...

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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