Rock picking test beds are shown at TerraClear. Rocks need to be removed from farmland to give crops room to grow and to avoid causing damage to expensive machinery. (Mike Racine Photo)
Brent Frei is learning how to pick rocks with a robot as he continues to work on his new company, TerraClear. Based on the interest generated by a new funding round, Frei may have picked another winner.
TerraClear raised $5.5 million in a friends and family round that Frei said was intended to raise $1 million or $2 million.
Brent Frei working on the family farm in Idaho. (Photo courtesy of Brent Frei)
Frei, the co-founder of Smartsheet — the Bellevue, Wash.-based company that went public in April — has been working on the Idaho farm where he grew up, developing a machine that he hopes will someday remove troublesome rocks from the land used to grow crops. He shed light on TerraClear this spring, and Thursday told GeekWire what the new funds will do.
“It’s capital to do all of our prototyping and build out the team and go bigger faster,” Frei said. “So far a lot of the design work we’ve been doing and the early prototyping, both of scale models and of life-size models, is pretty encouraging. It’s a lot of fun. It made a lot of sense that we raised more than we were originally intending to because it’ll definitely be necessary as we get closer to a production product.”
A pile of rocks that was picked by hand on the same 160-acre Idaho field over the past 100 years. (Brent Frei Photo)
Frei plans to be in Idaho most of the summer and his team wants to have a working prototype by fall. Toiling on his parents’ farm in the town of Grangeville with his kids in tow, Frei said it’s a whole different world for them.
“They’re driving tractors, riding horses, moving cows around. What people do for vacation is what we do for a living,” he said.
His previous living was made in software. Before co-founding Smartsheet in 2005 to help businesses manage and automate key work processes, Frei was CEO of Onyx Software. TerraClear is a new direction.
A drone is used to capture aerial imagery for TerraClear’s neural network input. (Mike Racine Photo)
“This is the first one that has a physical hardware, an actual thing along with the software, so that’s been a new experience,” Frei …read more