For farmers managing thousands of acres, tracking the health of all those plants can be a huge undertaking. Enter Pollen Systems, a Bellevue, Wash.-based startup that’s using drones and robotic scouting vehicles to help farmers better understand their fields. The company recently raised $777,572, according to a regulatory filing.
Pollen founder and CTO Keith McCall said the seed round came from local venture investors at Keiretsu Forum and Alliance of Angels.
Pollen got its start surveying vineyards with flying drones and has since expanded to blueberries, raspberries and hops. The startup has also grown its arsenal of surveying machines. It added a scouting robot that helps with close-up views from the ground as well as small planes that can gather intel on larger crops.
To build the new robotic scouting vehicle, called Pollen 5, the company collaborated with students at the University of Washington’s college of engineering. The purpose-built machine meanders down rows of crops taking pictures and analyzing the plants. The ground images help to give a more detailed view than what can be captured from above.
Pollen’s robotic helpers are meant to reduce labor costs and to improve yields. The startup is part of a growing class of companies betting on a future of technology-fueled precision agriculture.
Cheap drones and increasing access to machine learning tools have helped contribute to the increasing usage of precision agriculture. The global market for agricultural robots and drones is projected to grow from $2.5 billion in 2018 to $23 billion by 2028, according to BIS Research.
That opportunity has given rise to a number of innovative drone and analytics startups such as SenseFly, Sentera and MicaSense. Last month, GeekWire reported about agricultural automation startup Abundant Robotics, the maker of apple harvesting machines gearing up for its U.S. debut in Washington state.
Earlier this year, McCall brought on Phil Van Etten to be CEO of Pollen. McCall and Van Etten previously founded Azaleos, a hybrid software as a service email management company that was acquired by Avanade for $106 million in 2012. McCall also founded shipping startup Enroute Systems, which was bought by Pitney Bowes in 2016.
Pollen’s drones take normal pictures, as well as two kinds of images that are specific to agricultural surveying. These images, some of which are analyzed with the machine learning platform Amazon SageMaker, help farmers spot problems related to soil, crops, pests and disease.
Pollen recently introduced PrecisionView, an offline mobile app that lets workers see the aerial images while out in the field. The startup plans to expand its services to farms growing apples, pears and plums. Pollen has seven employees in the U.S. and three in Chile.
The company works with clients in Washington state, Oregon and California. Some of its customers include hops grower Roy Farms, berry operation Enfield Farms and the winegrower Goodnoe Hills Ranch.