By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice
In its second year, FIRA USA hosted 1,700 participants in Salinas from 40 states and over 30 countries for a multi-day ag robotics event. This is the only three-day event for autonomous farming and ag robot solutions, according to its website.
Jointly organized by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Western Growers Association, Fresno-Merced Future of Food, and French association GOFAR, the event featured over 35 robots and autonomous solutions.
FIRA USA also hosted 50 panelists to discuss education and career pathways, regulations and safety, grower feedback, and machine maturity. Panelists included Central Valley institutions such as Grimmway Farms.
According to Western Growers, harvest automation is a $5 billion annual opportunity for the specialty crop industry. FIRA USA offered innovators an opportunity to showcase new technologies, apply for start-up investments, and compete in the Farm Robotics Challenge.
While the event featured various international exhibitors, several U.S.-based products demonstrated awareness of national agriculture practices and offered efficient solutions to a decreasing labor market.
One company, Mantis Ag Technology, is based in Salinas Valley and is invested in attainable solutions and reliable service to the local agriculture community. At the event, Mantis showcased its Smart Cultivator which features a machine vision-guided side shift to maintain cultivator alignment without having to follow planter passes or remove sprinkler pipe.
Another U.S.-based company began in 2022 as a solution for weeding and utilizes AI learning technology, computer vision, robotics, and lasers to reduce weed control costs by 80%. Carbon Robotics’ technology is used by growers such as Grimmway Farms and Cal-Organic. The company’s LaserWeeders reportedly increases crop yield and quality, providing safer working conditions for farmers.
Monarch, headquartered in Livermore, California, also demonstrated their technology at the event, with the MK-V Tractor at the forefront of self-driving automation. The 100% data-driven tractor was engineered as a solution to the labor shortage and boasts its ability to work into a given farm’s current ecosystem with less than two hours of training.
FIRA USA also offered an opportunity for start-up companies to pitch autonomous agricultural solutions to potential investors. The estimated growth for agriculture robotics is 100% between 2022 and 2025, and FIRA attracted investors around the world.
After their pitch to investors, 12 start-ups were selected for an award:
- Orbiba Robotics
- SeedSpider Inc
- Grain Weevil Corporation
- Sami Agtech Inc.
- Exobotic Technologies
- AVL Motion
- L5 Automation Inc
- Muddy Machines Ltd
- Nature Robots
- Green Robot Machinery (GRoboMac)
- TRIC Robotics
UC ANR also announced the launch of its 2024 Farm Robotics Challenge at the event. The competition, organized by UC ANR, Farm-ng, F3 Innovate, and AI Institute for Next Gen Food Systems will take place in January 2024.
According to a press release, the annual event invites teams of students across the United States to create innovative solutions for real-world farming challenges. The competition is open to all universities, colleges, and 2-year colleges in the nation.
“The Farm Robotics Challenge is not just another competition; it’s a transformative experience designed to cultivate the next generation of leaders in agricultural technology,” Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer of UC ANR and VIN founder, said in the press release. “By participating in this challenge, students are not only showcasing their technical skills but also contributing to a larger mission—advancing sustainable and efficient farming practices for the future. We’re incredibly excited to see the solutions that these young entrepreneurs will bring to the table.”
The competition is split into three categories — autonomy, artificial intelligence, and attachment. Teams must submit a proposal by Nov. 15 in order to be considered in the competition, and judging takes place on Sept. 6, 2024.