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TeleSense, a startup developing AI-powered software and sensors to predict the quality of crops in storage and transit, has raised $10.2 million. The company says the funds will be put toward R&D and expanding its team.
Over 80 billion pounds of food — equating to more than $161 billion — are thrown away in the U.S. each year, according to estimates. This is partly due to avoidable spoilage. One report found that as much as 50% to 60% of cereal grains can be lost during storage because of a lack of technical efficiency and know-how.
TeleSense’s platform aims to prevent this issue with sensors that gather crop temperature, moisture, and location metrics for AI algorithms that analyze the data and predict quality. The sensors work anywhere with a cellular data connection and monitor stationary storage units, as well as storage units in transit — like barges, railcars, ground piles, grain bags, bunkers, bins, warehouses, and crates. An app analyzes the incoming information and identifies problems related to mold, insects, moisture, and other compromised storage conditions, notifying stakeholders of any issues as they are detected.
“We are a data company at heart. We develop hardware to meet our customers’ needs, as no other vendor delivered a super easy-to-deploy, robust, wireless method of collecting the data — so we had to develop it,” CEO Naeem Zafar told VentureBeat via email. “However, we see our real value in providing insights and advice to be able to maintain the grain in ideal conditions. Our focus is twofold: help our customers reduce costs by reducing spoilage, reducing energy consumption and shrinkage and increase merchandizing profits by providing information to optimize merchandizing timing.”
TeleSense’s sensors are tailored for specific use cases. For example, the turkey baster-shaped CellularSpear, Gateway SensorSpear, and Waterproof SensorSpear are designed to be inserted into outdoor storage units without clear fixture points or loose ground soil. The Gateway SensorSpear leverages the LoRa communication protocol to reach longer distances than conventional Wi-Fi. The SensorBall, meanwhile, is equipped with mesh networking capabilities that enable it to communicate with other SensorBalls using a gateway. And BuffaloBox enhances existing cable systems by making them wireless.
TeleSense’s solution is akin to (albeit less holistic than) FarmBeats, Microsoft’s multi-year effort to bring robust data analytics to agricultural sectors. Available in preview since November 2019, FarmBeats aims to promote data-driven farming techniques with a network of sensors, drones, low-cost computers, and AI and machine learning algorithms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering rolling out FarmBeats to the 200-plus farms in its research network.
TeleSense also competes with Arable Labs, a startup that raised $4.25 million in March 2017 to bring data-driven analysis and predictions to farming using internet of things sensors. Another rival in the space — Taranis — nabbed $20 million last November for its image-based AI-driven crop insights platform. Other well-funded competitors include Enko Chem, iFarm, and Prospera.
TeleSense claims it is already helping over 400 unnamed “major grain players” mitigate the spoilage of corn, wheat, soybeans, hay, alfalfa, seeds, wood chips, biomass, and more. The company recently established offices in Australia and Europe, and it plans to focus on strengthening its sales channels, speeding production, and building out its data science team.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need for a safe and protected grain supply chain,” Zafar said. “As labor safety and shortage concerns escalated, our remote wireless sensors have been a blessing for the grain growers and handlers relying on TeleSense. The data comes directly to them, and companies do not have to go out and have workers try to sense what may be wrong. Our predictive models and prescriptive insights can offer specific action they can take to keep the grain in the best condition. Beyond the pandemic, climate change is causing increasing reliance on ground piles and silo bags — where monitoring can be challenging.”
Finistere Ventures led TeleSense’s series B round, bringing its total raised to over $17.4 million. Fulcrum Global Capital, UPL, Artesian, Mindset Ventures, and Rabobank’s Food & Agri Innovation Fund also participated.
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