As the California wildfire season approaches, the startup BurnBot is developing a cutting-edge technological solution for prevention

Last year’s unprecedented heatwave exacerbated drought and dry conditions worldwide, particularly in California, where 13 of the state’s 20 most devastating wildfires in history have occurred since 2017.

In South San Francisco, a small startup called BurnBot is pioneering a high-tech solution to combat wildfires.

Co-founders Anukool Lakhina and Waleed “Lee” Haddad established BurnBot in 2022 with the aim of developing robotics and remote-controlled vehicles capable of clearing and burning invasive plants or dry vegetation that serve as fuel for fires.

Recently, BurnBot secured a $20 million funding round led by ReGen Ventures, a climate-focused investment firm, to facilitate expansion, recruitment, and the development of new machines capable of navigating steeper terrain and tighter spaces.

Traditionally, firefighters and landowners have resorted to costly, time-consuming, and hazardous methods such as grazing with animals, controlled burning, herbicide application, or mechanical vegetation removal.

BurnBot’s current model, the RX, is a remote-controlled vehicle equipped with rows of torches that emit precise heat levels to eliminate unwanted vegetation. The RX also captures and incinerates smoke to prevent air pollution. Additionally, it can operate safely under power lines, unlike conventional controlled burns, which generate significant smoke that interferes with electrical infrastructure.

The company aims to enhance the efficiency of fire prevention efforts tenfold compared to traditional methods. Furthermore, BurnBot has developed equipment to prepare land for controlled burns in areas where conventional approaches are impractical.

BurnBot has scheduled a prescribed burn in San Diego this Friday for CalTrans, the state’s transportation agency, and plans another burn for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in June. PG&E, which invests over $1 billion annually in vegetation management, has collaborated with BurnBot to conduct controlled burns beneath its transmission lines.

Collaborating with CalFire, BurnBot has assisted in creating control lines, strategically burned areas to create barriers against wildfires. The startup envisions expanding its operations beyond California to areas with high wildfire risk and vegetation management needs.

According to Lakhina, BurnBot’s precision-oriented approach offers ecological benefits compared to grazing, herbicides, and mechanical removal, as it prevents the spread of seeds from invasive species without inducing herbicide resistance.

ReGen Ventures led BurnBot’s recent funding round, with participation from investors such as AmFam Ventures, Toyota Ventures, and earlier backers including Pathbreaker, Convective Capital, and Lowercarbon Capital led by Chris Sacca.

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