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8 Companies Leading the Charge for Commercial-Use Robotics

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This story appears in the May 2013 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

"It's not easy to commercialize robots," says Steve DiAntonio, director of business development at the National Robotics Engineering Center, an operating unit within Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh. "You have to find an application that is going to be very valuable to really return the investment well." Here are some robots with a good shot

at doing just that.

Blue River Technology

Agriculture

Company: Blue River Technology in Mountain View, Calif., has raised more than $3 million to develop a robot that addresses the No. 1 problem in agriculture: eliminating weeds without adding herbicideas to food crops, genetically modifying the seeds or resorting to manual removal. "The majority of crop-yield increases have been about weed control," explains co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud. The 2-year-old company, which has 10 employees, will deploy its first machines this year on California lettuce crops.

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Robot: Thanks to advances in computer vision and spray technology, Blue River's robot provides an alternative to GM crops or blanketing a field with herbicides. Pulled behind a tractor, the robot incorporates a camera that looks down at the field. Images are processed in milliseconds; the robot determines whether a plant is a crop or a weed and sprays only the latter.

Impact: It's better for health, the environment and farmers' margins, and could lead to more affordable food for consumers. And the technology has the potential to disrupt the market for all pesticides--worth roughly $25 billion, according to market publisher SBI--and biotech crops, worth $13.3 billion, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

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