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Smart Ag: Driverless technology to work smarter, not harder

Smart Ag

Two years of research, development and testing has an Ames-based AgTech startup preparing for a new source of revenue this fall.

With its driverless tractor technology, Smart Ag is taking preorders for the upcoming fall harvest season. Smart Ag Founder Colin Hurd said the company is also in the process of raising $5 million in Series A funding.

Hurd said they were able to fully test the Smart Ag technology last fall with two local farmers near Ames and joked that it was rather…boring work.

“What it does (Smart Ag technology) is it makes that grain cart operation process very repeatable,” Hurd said. “Unlike when a person is driving it, our system does exactly the same thing each time. You know where it’s going to pull up and you can count on that.”

Seeking ideal partners

During the preorder process, Hurd said the Smart Ag team will look to partner with farmers from around the Midwest who can’t find enough help.

He said farms who only want the technology as a way to reduce labor expenses aren’t ideal partners.

“It’s even more about the person who would normally have to sit in the grain cart and let them go do something else,” Hurd said. “There are hundreds of things that happen during harvest, sometimes it’s just having an extra set of hands.”

Complex technology with a simple installation

Keeping the technology nonintrusive for the farmers was important, Hurd said, throughout the development process.

Hurd said it’s, “Plug and play” technology.

“That’s what farmers want,” Hurd said. “They don’t want to drill holes or modify that tractor because if they want to sell it down the road they don’t want to do anything to it that they can’t undo.”

Hurd says he was hopeful they could do very complex planning and run very complex algorithms, without installing a server on each tractor.

“That was another surprise, that we could do this advanced path planning that hasn’t really been applied to agriculture in any meaningful way,” Hurd says.

As the idea for Smart Ag was being developed, Hurd said he researched technology that was already developed and parts that could be used, that were easily accessible.

“We use mainly off the shelf hardware but from the software standpoint, nothing existed,” Hurd said. “We try to use as much technology as possible that is already on the tractor but we also do add our own hardware.”

Previous Coverage

Startups receive funding from Iowa Economic Development Authority – Sept. 25, 2017





Smart Ag: Driverless technology to work smarter, not harder | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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