The agricultural worker shortage is threatening farmer’s businesses, starting with strawberry growers, a very delicate fruit. A few companies are developing robots capable of replacing humans on strawberry farms. Among them, L5 Automation’s robot can harvest strawberries on the field. 

We reached out to Alex Gutierrez, founder and CEO of L5 Automation, to learn more about his plan to take over the strawberry picking market.

Funding Round Details

L5 Automation logo
Company: L5 Automation
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $15,000,000
Min Investment: $100
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Apr 17, 2024
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In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Our vision is to radically increase global productivity by introducing software to enable scalable robotic solutions that can mimic the capabilities of humans in complex environments, starting with the harvesting of strawberries. Unlike crops like corn and wheat, which are highly mechanized and require few workers to harvest, many crops like strawberries are still as dependent on human pickers as they were a hundred years ago. Many industries face similar labor constraints and have been unable to grow and evolve because machines and robots have fallen short of their promise, not reaching the intelligence, awareness, and dexterity that only humans have achieved until now.

L5 Automation is developing software that allows off-the-shelf robotic arms and cameras to approach the same capabilities we humans take for granted. Our precision harvesting, combined with advanced analytics we will be able to provide growers on their crops, will unleash the possibilities for growers worldwide to reduce crop loss, reduce labor risk, and focus on creating a healthier and tastier product.

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Everything I have done since I was a young kid has been geared to creating a company that would help change the world to be a better place. My studies began at Carnegie Mellon University, where I first completed my Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree. Still, they then became a certified “Robot Master”, helping to lead Carnegie Mellon’s Red Team’s entry in the 2004 and 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles, to co-founding (the recently very newsworthy!) Astrobotic Technology with my mentor/advisor, Red Whittaker. Ultimately, before founding L5, I spent nine years at Lockheed Martin. I learned to build and deploy complex systems and led corporate R&D efforts in robotics, augmented reality, and process optimization.

Everything I have done was in preparation to create L5 Automation, a company that allows robots to approach the capability we humans take for granted. It is the only way we can automate the dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs… and, more importantly, allow us as a society to do more with less. If we are successful with strawberries, we can apply this same technology everywhere, unlocking new applications and use cases that are not even dreamed of in Science Fiction.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Throughout my career, I have been incredibly lucky to have participated in and led incredible engineering projects, from self-driving race cars to working to return us to the Moon. Along the way, I have been extremely fortunate to develop an amazing network of people who want L5 to succeed in its goals. Our investors and advisors span world experts in Machine Learning to repeat founders in game-changing startups. All these incredibly talented and accomplished people on the team and in my network share similar goals of wanting to make the world better, safer, healthier, and less dangerous. When I started L5 I was able to draw upon that network and put together an amazing and dedicated team.

Together, we represent over 50 years of experience in advanced technology like space satellites and award-winning robots.

Dan, who has a M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford, has extensive experience with software systems development, successfully delivering complex, embedded, real-time, and safety-critical systems. He led groundbreaking research, resulting in peer review and publication.

Ed is a versatile engineer specializing in deploying object detection systems on mobile robots in unstructured environments. Ed worked at NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and KEF Robotics after graduating with a M.S. from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute in 2018.

Bernardo just completed his Ph.D. in Robotics at West Virginia Univ. with a background in mechanical engineering. Bernardo worked as the manipulation lead, system integration, and autonomy co-lead for the WVU Robotics team in the NASA Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2.

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Different approaches to automating strawberry harvesting require farmers to change how they farm, such as reconfiguring furrow/row parameters or switching to indoor tabletop or vertical production. We do not. We work with growers’ existing fields,, which is the predominant method of growing strawberries in the United States and globally. While most of our competitors are successful when foliage is minimal on a plant, we believe our company is the only one with a straightforward way to pick berries during peak production and under dense foliage. The two robotic arms mimic how humans pick by working independently yet in conjunction, with one arm moving foliage aside and the other grasping the berries. Outside of research labs, we may be the only company successfully deploying two-arm manipulation in a commercial, agricultural setting. A further differentiator will be affordability since we use commercial off-the-shelf equipment. We have two patent applications for our intellectual property.

How much revenue did you generate in 2023 and where did it come from?

We generated just over $450k of revenue, where $250k came from our National Science Foundation grant award, $200k came from a service contract with one of our clients Agrovision, and $2,000 came directly from our customer GoodFarms for Harvest Operations.

What is your plan to generate revenues in the next two years?

We plan to generate revenue through harvesting strawberries. We have already been harvesting via paid pilots, with plans to go to 6 days a 6-day-a-week operation as soon as next year (2025). In addition to our commercial operations, we have applied for and have won multiple grants. We expect to reach $800k of revenue (including grants) for the 2024 year, with over a million in revenue (including grant revenue) starting in 2025.

Do you already have potential customers ready to use your product?

Absolutely! When L5 was in the ideation stage, we extensively conducted market research, including cold calling and reviewing the technological landscape on commercial farms in California. We quickly learned a few things. First, farmers are incredibly forward-thinking and love to test and adopt technologies they trust can improve their harvests meaningfully. Also, certain products, like strawberries, have resisted automation due to the machines’ lack of quality and efficiency. This means growers still rely heavily on manual labor, which is becoming increasingly problematic worldwide. In the United States strawberry market, labor costs represent half of their operational costs, increasing yearly. Everyone we have talked to realizes this is a huge problem, and nobody wants to see strawberries disappear from supermarket shelves. One of our partners, GoodFarms, is so eager for a solution that they have invested in our company and given us access to their fields, where we actively test. We have validated from our customers and many others that whoever can deliver an automated solution at a competitive price point will have a massive market of eager growers.

If we talk again in 12 months, which milestones will you have achieved?

One of the things I learned at Lockheed was to develop a complex system, you must start with a simple system and add complexity. As such, we had a mantra of “Make it Work,” “Make it Right,” and then “Make it Fast.” Over the last 2 years, we have shown that we can “Make it Work”. We have proven we can harvest berries under foliage, something no one has been able to do before.

This year, with help from a grant from the National Science Foundation, it is about “Making it Right,” showing we can harvest the entire bed all season long under all conditions.

With this capability in hand, in 2025 we will then work to “Make it Fast”, showing we can match or exceed the ability of a human harvester on a per-day basis, all while harvesting six days a week, under all weather conditions for the 10-month season.

Our achievement from “Make it Fast” will allow us to start preparing for commercial scale in 2026, where a team of 2 humans running multiple robotic harvesters can do the work of a 30-person harvest team. With a complimentary goal of not just picking the berries but providing additional data services to help growers get more value out of their crops per acre basis.