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Crop-monitoring startup PlanetWatchers raises $3.5 million from investors

Trendlines Group invests in Tel Aviv-based firm that provides crop insurers with analytics about fields using radar signals from satellites

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustrative image of a cotton field plantation (Mailson Pignata; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of a cotton field plantation (Mailson Pignata; iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli startup PlanetWatchers Ltd. has raised $3.5 million in a pre-series A funding round from investors to boost sales and further develop software that analyzes radar images to monitor crops.

Israeli VC fund The Trendlines Group said Monday it has invested in the firm. Other investors included Creative Ventures and Seraphim Capital, both of which led the round, and Ridgeline.

The startup provides analytics as a service (AaaS) to the crop insurance industry. It offers detailed information about fields or property, regardless of weather conditions and in almost real-time using data from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) signals from satellites.

SAR is a form of radar that is used to create two or three-dimensional reconstruction of objects and landscapes. This powerful remote sensing technology, which is generally used by satellites, bounces microwave signals off the Earth’s surface.

An illustrative image of a corn field (Kwangmoozaa; iStock by Getty Images)

The firm’s machine learning technologies analyze radar signals coming from the satellites, detecting changes in crops’ physical properties and thus helping insurers set out their insurance policies. PlanetWatchers’ reports provide insurers with information about planting times, acreage and crop classification.

This information is currently gathered by insurers and their agents in person, with officials inspecting the crops and writing up reports upon which policy is then validated, explained PlanetWatchers co-founder Roi Shilo, a co-founder of the startup.

The same applies to insurance claims: in times of crisis, because of weather conditions, flooding or over-heating, surveyors are sent in person to assess the damage.

Roi Shilo, co-founder of PlanetWatchers (Courtesy)

PlanetWatchers, founded in 2016, wants to make this process faster, more efficient, objective, digitalized, and remote. It can reduce the typical processing time for a claim from many months to a virtually immediate response, Trendlines said in a statement.

Unlike optical technologies that are sometimes used to monitor crops, the radar technology is able to send signals in all sorts of weather conditions, and can accurately determine the status of crops not just by their color but also by their structure, such as if plants are crooked or bent over, said Shilo.

PlanetWatchers started sales of its data-based reports to companies in the US that insure farmers’ crops a year ago, and hopes the funds raised will help it boost sales, add more international markets and further develop the product to increase the scope of readings, said Shilo.

At the moment the main focus of the firm is to provide data on vast fields of crops like corn, cotton and soybean, covered by most insurance policies and where most of the claims are made, he said.

The company was founded in 2016 by Roi Shilo, Ariel Smoliar and Shay Lev,  former members of elite Israeli military intelligence units who saw the potential for the use of synthetic aperture radar in commercial markets.

Trendlines Agrifood Fund CEO Nitza Kardish said that PlanetWatchers has “a robust and unique technology enabling direct access to a great deal of data to all players in the agrifood value chain, from the farmer in the field to insurance companies and banks.”

Trendlines invests in and incubates innovation-based medical and agrifood technologies. Trendlines’ shares are traded on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

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