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Advances in Agtech: Bear Flag Robotics’ Autonomous Tractors

By Rohit Sharma, August 31, 2018

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One of the exciting moments in venture capital is when you come across a company that is truly passionate about helping people who have been underserved by today’s technology. Farmers are, unfortunately, one such group of people, which is particularly challenging given that food is our primary interface to nature, and farmers are the stewards of that relationship.

Farmers today face far more challenges than they did a few decades ago. With increased urbanization, people have migrated away from rural farming areas to where there are higher paying jobs. As a result, farmers face an increasing labor shortage.

Additionally, accelerating climate change has caused significant changes in local and global weather patterns. Unfortunately for farmers, the institutional knowledge of their generations past is no longer sufficient to deal with such environmental changes.

In order to deal with the dynamics of this new earth, farmers need not just more information but technology that helps them utilize that data to increase production and meet the world’s growing food demands. If farm machines can autonomously react to new information at all hours of the day or night, use sensors to detect weather conditions, and proceed with their work all before farmers brews their morning coffee, there’s a chance technology can be a strong ally to farmers and growers.

To enable such an ideal future, companies like Bear Flag Robotics, which we proudly funded, are creating technology that will help farmers redefine and refactor their everyday tasks so they can produce higher yields at lower cost. The company’s Co-Founders, Igino Cafiero and Aubrey Donnellan, believe industrial automation is the key to helping farmers increase efficiency of everyday operations in the near term and eventually use information analysis technology to deal with the changing environment.

A small but significant first step on this journey is marked by Bear Flag’s first product, which turns existing tractors into autonomous vehicles that can mow, till, spray, and more, freeing up time for farmers as well as reducing dependence on uncertain labor.

While the company is currently focused on autonomous tractors, they are laying the foundation for a broader future including automating all common tasks on the farm. Down the line, there could be entire regions using tech-enabled fleets, giving our farmers a better chance at thriving even among harsher weather conditions.

Igino and Aubrey are especially qualified to run this company given their deep expertise in building complex and autonomous machines. Igino grew up in a tech family, but his love for hands-on work with machines drove him to co-found Bear Flag. He has built several race cars including a baja race truck and has worked on all types of engines. His experience with both software and physical machines fueled his enthusiasm for industrial automation and led him to build the first Bear Flag prototype in his garage.

While working for Phantom Works, the R&D division of Boeing Satellite Development Center, Aubrey designed and implemented advanced robotics and manufacturing solutions to support the company’s first satellite manufacturing line. Pulling research from adjacent industries like video gaming, her team prototyped one the first augmented reality solutions to aid in complex assemblies.

Aubrey Donnellan and Igino Cafiero

Bear Flag Robotics Co-Founders Igino Cafiero and Aubrey Donnellan are building a team of experts to bring frontier automation technology to the farm.

There is an unlimited number of farming problems in virtually unlimited places around the world that the Bear Flag team can help solve. While the team is starting small with automated tractors, we are glad to see they are not thinking small in terms of what they can accomplish long term.

Welcome to True, Igino, Aubrey, and team Bear Flag! We are here to support you as you help farmers plan for a better future.