The Van Trump Report

Illinois Startup “Sabanto” Wants Autonomous Technology to be More Accessible and Affordable

Autonomy continues to be a key focus for farm equipment manufacturers as increasingly tech-savvy farmers seek solutions to any number of issues that plague the agriculture industry. Among the still small but growing list of options is Illinois-based farm autonomy startup “Sabanto.” The company’s technology automates small farming equipment such as tractors with between 60 and 90 horsepower. Sabanto also has a fleet of autonomous tractors that provide “Farming-as-a-Service” (FaaS) operations.

Sabanto says its modifications can be placed onto nearly any small tractor to make it autonomous. In fact, the tractors in Sabanto’s FaaS fleet are retrofitted existing models. “Introducing autonomy doesn’t necessarily need to mean creating a whole new machine,” founder and CEO Craig Rupp explains. “A lot of companies are good at making tractors, and I want to leverage what they are doing and add my technology on top of that.”

Rupp also believes a gradual transition to autonomy will make it easier for farmers to adopt. As he sees it, there are plenty of times a farmer may still want to perform a task manually, so full-automation isn’t really the goal. While Rupp does expect autonomy to become a mainstay in agriculture, he says it first has to be affordable and accessible. One of the key factors that motivated him to start Sabanto was to solve the labor shortage in agriculture and reset the out-of-control capital expenses associated with agricultural machinery.

Rupp understands first-hand agriculture’s unique challenges – he grew up on an Illinois farm that his older brother Dean now runs. Rupp opted to pursue engineering and has an impressive resume that includes Deere, where he helped develop the company’s yellow “StarFire Receiver” GPS units. That development later led to “AutoSteer.”

Rupp was working as a consultant when he got interested in the farm data his brother’s Deere tractor sensors were collecting. He created a device that could pull and translate the data, later using it to launch his first attempt at automating the industry, 640 Labs. His idea for swarms of automated tractors was by all accounts way ahead of its time. Venture capitalists didn’t understand what Rupp was selling but Monsanto did and proceeded to scoop up 640 Labs in 2014. Rupp’s product became “FieldView Drive” from Bayer after it acquired Monsanto.      

So far, Sabanto-powered tractors have successfully completed a variety of farming tasks, including tilling, planting, seeding, weeding and mowing, at numerous farms across the Midwest. Company employees monitor the units which can operate in “swarms”, aka multiple units working simultaneously. But they can get a lot done with just one piece of machinery. Sabanto says it used a single 60 hp tractor to plant more than 750 acres of corn and soybeans in one season.  

The company is still working on an autonomy kit that farmers can install themselves. For now, the company installs the processors and sensors on customers’ tractors and gives them access to the Sabanto software. These as well as the company’s tractor fleet can be deployed individually or in groups for multiple days of nonstop operation, allowing smaller farms to compete against larger, better-capitalized concerns. “We see a future of smarter, smaller, lighter, less expensive and more sustainable swarms of autonomous equipment, substituting horsepower and weight for time.”

Sabanto recently closed a $17M Series A funding round led by Fulcrum Global Capital, an agtech-focused VC group based in Kansas. The company also has a contract with the US Air Force to povide automated mowers and is in talks with Verbio North America, a company that makes biogas using corn stover and manure. Learn more about Sabanto HERE. (Sources: DesMoines Register, IoT World, Chicago Business Journal, DTN)

Sabanto Autonomous Machine

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