Traptic: Solving Agriculture Labor Shortages With a Strawberry Picking Robot

May 28, 2019

Founders with dirt under their fingernails. In this case not merely an expression to suggest the mentality of teams we like backing, but a literal prerequisite for any of our investments in agriculture technology. We always believe in the power of Disrupting With Love, Not Contempt, but find this to be especially true of startups in industries which function far outside of Silicon Valley culture. So the willingness and interest of entrepreneurs to spend time with their customers and learn with them is an important positive signal for us. Traptic, a Homebrew investment (along with our friends at K9 Ventures and Village Global) announcing itself this week, has been operating the last few years in the strawberry fields of Northern and Southern California. Both its founders and its robots have plenty of dirt under their nails.

WHO: Lewis, Vinh and Bryan share a few common traits - big brains, a love of solving meaningful problems, and responding to challenges with a blend of enthusiasm and humor. When we backed the three of them they’d already been hard at work with strawberry growers, prototyping a robotic arm that became the basis for today’s more advanced machine. It was important to us that they not only appreciated feedback from their customers, but sought it out, early in the process and ongoing.

WHAT: Traptic’s mission is to save the world’s food production from a crippling labor shortage by developing technologies that help expand food production in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. More specifically, Traptic is building robotic farming machines to augment human labor in harvesting fruits and vegetables with a focus on speed and accuracy balanced with delicate handling.

HOW: It starts with a smart robotic harvester built around innovations in grippers, 3D cameras, neural networks and low cost actuators. In combination, these technologies let the robot detect and pick ripe strawberries from field bushes. Seriously, this is outrageously cool stuff. And some of the most fun Board meeting demos we’ve had to date.

WHY: Many produce crops are still largely harvested by hand, creating a variety of limitations in the supply chain. There isn’t enough labor available to pick all of today’s crops, let alone the crops needed to feed a growing world population. These harvesting jobs are physically demanding, and even higher wages have failed to produce predictable labor pools. The problem is only getting worse as a result of demographic changes and immigration frictions. Scaling food production will require that new technologies like Traptic be developed.

We are very excited to be supporting Lewis and team. If you’re curious about these challenges, Traptic is hiring.