swap botsa company Which makes electric lawn-cutting and snow-clearing robots, is presented today at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield to detail how to make sustainable outdoor work equipment. Over the next few years, 95% of the startup’s focus will be on facilitating robots that cut grass and plants on solar farms on a scale of more than 1,000 acres. The company’s secondary focus is shoveling snow onto the sidewalk.
The startup was founded in October 2019 by CEO Tim Leste, and CTO Muhammad H. Ahmed, Head of Machine Design Spencer Kishinsky and Head of Electrical Design Adonis Mansour. Leste, Kczynski and Mansour attended the University of Waterloo together and then got to know Ahmed during their first year. The team originally planned to develop an automated cutting solution for sports stadiums, but kept hearing from landscapers that cutting down more than 1,000 acres of utility-scale solar installations was a challenging task that could use a modern solution.
The team decided that their task was to find a solution that could sustainably cut grass in a controlled environment. Swap Robotics was aware that cutting solar vegetation comes with its challenges, requiring a unique type of cutting surface able to reach the bottom of the solar panels, and realized that an automated solution could address the problem.
“Right now, there are two main challenges when cutting all the vegetation in solar fields,” Leste told TechCrunch in an interview. “The way it’s done is not sustainable. It’s done by equipment that runs on petrol or diesel, so obviously there’s a big carbon footprint there. There’s also a high cost of petrol and diesel itself. The equipment also goes through rough terrain, so there’s a lot of equipment failures.” And the costs associated with that. Because what we do is 100% electricity, it’s more sustainable. There are also much fewer parts, so it won’t break down nearly as often as often.”
The robots have built-in hydraulics that move the lawn cutter blades and snow plow attachment. Attachments have a “quick swap” system, hence the name Swap Robotics, to make switching attachments easier and faster. The robots’ batteries can also be replaced in five minutes, allowing for nearly 24/7 operation. The robots can also carry more than 1,000 pounds.
Within 60 days of its robots debuting in mid-2022, Swap Robotics had more than $9 million in agreements signed to cut solar vegetation.
Swap Robotics says it has developed the world’s first 100% electric cutting surface for accessing grass and plants under solar panels. The company also says it has developed the world’s first 100% electric “rough cutting” surface that can easily cut vegetation up to two inches in diameter.
Leste says Swap Robotics currently has several bots in commercial operation in Texas, but is unable to reveal which companies are currently using robots. The startup is also in the midst of launching a batch of 10 new bots and has requested supplies for the next batch of 10 bots. The company anticipates additional sales in the future as a result of its new relationship with SOLV Energy.
For the company’s business model, Swap Robotics charges a price per acre. Lichti says the model is convenient because customers are already familiar with paying a price per acre for human-made lawn mowers. The price per acre can vary depending on factors such as site size, cutting frequency, and terrain. The startup’s goal is to save 15% to 20% for customers compared to the current reduction costs per acre.
The startup also announced that it has received investment from SOLV EnergyAnd the Largest utility-scale solar construction company In the United States, but unable to disclose the amount. Lichti says the funding is part of a pre-Series A round that it plans to close at the end of October. A large portion of the investment will go towards marketing the startup’s bots. The company plans to ramp up operations to get dozens of robots into service. In addition, some parts of the investment will be used for capital spending.
Prior to this investment, Swap Robotics raised $3 million in the three years following its launch from angel investors and SOSV. Funding was used to obtain the first batch of Swap Robotics from dozens of robots in commercial operation. The investment was also used in software, mechanical and electrical development.
Swap Robotics plans to have a bigger Series A round in 2023.
“In the long term, we would like Swap Robotics to be an outsourced robotics platform for business,” Leste said. “We have developed a compact form factor that is very strong and durable and has a built-in hydraulic system that can have dozens of different use cases. I think this makes it an ideal platform for heavy use cases, especially those that can sometimes be seasonal.”
Lichti emphasized that the startup’s main focus will largely be on solar vegetation, and that the potential for additional use cases is part of its long-term vision. As for what these use cases might look like, Leste noted that robots could potentially be used in street sweeping or reforestation efforts.
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