Scoutlabs Unveils AI Pest Control, Secures $2M for Agri-Tech

At last week’s Salinas Biological Summit in California, the focus was squarely on the need for more efficient trapping systems in the specialty crop sector. Among the attendees were Donát Posta and Jimmy Fong, co-founders of scoutlabs, a company dedicated to digitizing pest management. The duo sat down with AgFunderNews to discuss their innovative approach to pest control and the future of agriculture.

Scoutlabs, formerly known as SMAPP Lab, has developed a hand-held device designed to track insect migration and swarming patterns. “Our vision is to build a field-level data-based AI co-pilot that transforms guesswork into data-driven decisions, making agriculture exciting and sustainable for the next generation of farmers,” the company says. This vision has recently garnered significant financial backing, with scoutlabs announcing a $2 million seed round from Interactive Venture Partners, SVG Ventures | THRIVE, DEPO Ventures, and Impact Ventures.

Donát Posta shared that the inspiration for digitizing pest management came from personal experience. “My family has a farm where we used manual traps to monitor pests like the European corn borer on our sweet corn farm. Doing it manually was almost impossible because we had to hire so many people, and the quality of the data they collected was questionable,” he explained. This inefficiency led to significant yield losses, prompting Posta to seek a more effective solution. Existing market options were prohibitively expensive, costing a minimum of €100 per trap per season. This motivated Posta to develop a more affordable, digital solution that could be implemented with less labor and better data accuracy.

Jimmy Fong elaborated on the company’s journey, noting that the project began as Posta’s university research endeavor. “The first iteration was a really nice device and more affordable than existing technology, but the issue was around the economics for row crop growers. Their margins are much smaller, making it tricky to adopt new technology,” Fong said. Over the past 18 months, scoutlabs has focused on refining their device to make it more cost-effective and efficient.

The technology works by retrofitting existing manual pheromone traps with a camera-based IoT device. This device takes daily pictures and sends them to scoutlabs’ server, where an image-recognition algorithm identifies the insects. An agronomist team then validates the data, ensuring high-quality information. This data is visualized for farmers, allowing them to make quick, informed decisions about pest control.

“Our little device is about 20 to 30 times more affordable than the nearest competitor and significantly more cost-effective than manual traps,” Fong highlighted. The feedback from growers has been overwhelmingly positive. One customer noted that setting up 10,000 traps manually took two to three weeks, but with scoutlabs’ devices, the process is much quicker and more efficient.

Scoutlabs plans to distribute their technology directly to growers globally, bypassing traditional distribution channels. “Seeing the distributor system, if you are a small startup, going through the system can take several years. Also, distributors are expensive,” Posta explained. By offering a subscription model at around $33 per season, scoutlabs aims to keep costs low for small family farms.

Fong added that the changing landscape of buyers is another reason for this direct approach. “There’s a changing of the guard. That trust with a retailer is still there, but the type of target customers for us are those that are already googling the problem and how to fix it,” he said. This shift towards self-research and instant access mirrors trends in other industries, such as cybersecurity.

What sets scoutlabs apart is their pending patent on image compression and transmission via low bandwidth. This technology provides daily images and heat maps of pest pressure, enabling forward predictions and better planning. The company is currently running pilot projects in California and Washington State, with plans for Posta to relocate to California next year to maximize impact.

As the agricultural sector continues to evolve, scoutlabs’ innovative approach to pest management could play a crucial role in making farming more efficient and sustainable.

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