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June 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Techstars | Crow Industries initially focused on terrestrial mining

This start-up is building the robotic labor force of the mining industry, and that starts with having incredible data of these mines.

Crow Industries is its name and addressing the challenges of terrestrial mining is its game, at least for the next decade, James Crowell explains. It is a name that he chose when he was 11 years old and, like his fascination with both earth and space exploration in extreme environments, the name has stuck with him.

Today, the company that he launched in 2018 is a member of Cohort 2 of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator” that will be featured during the “Industries of the Future Summit” scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 21 at The Mill & Mine, 227 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville. To register, click here.

Crowell was raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He earned his B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration from Arizona State University (ASU) and has done some work on his Ph.D. in Systems Engineering, also at ASU. Crowell has worked as a Robotics Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA; a Researcher Engineer at the Extreme Environments Robotics and Instrumentation Laboratory in Tempe, AZ; Lead Thermal Systems Engineer for NASA’s Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper at ASU; and Business Development Manager for the Space Frontier Foundation. While an undergraduate, he also co-founded the ASU Lunabotics Club and the ASU chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

You get the picture. Space fascinates Crowell as do extreme environments on Mother Earth, where both scientific knowledge and engineering skills are required to address major challenges. He was able to enhance his knowledge of those extreme environments during his JPL days when he worked in Greenland and Antarctica.

Today, Crow Industries is focused initially on one of three customer segments – the mining industry. “There are plenty of problems in the terrestrial mining industry, long before we go to space,” Crowell says. The technologies his company is developing to enhance the mining industry have strong dual-use applicability to the nation’s defense needs. Crow Industries is working to transform operations in these two industries on their way to space.

What all three segments share in common is the use of robots that allow work to be done where it could be unsafe or impractical for humans to go.

“We deploy autonomous robots to create sustainable mining solutions to enhance your efficiency, create a safer working environment, and bring your mining operations into the future,” the startup’s website says.

Crow Industries’ primary service that it provides today is advanced mapping and geomatics, leveraging autonomous aerial drones and ground rovers to survey mine sites 10X faster and more efficiently than other providers.

Crowell summarizes the focus this way: “We’re building the robotic labor force of the mining industry, and that starts with having incredible data of these mines (and lots of it!).” The specific focuses in the mining industry are critical minerals, metals, and aggregates to aid in the renewable energy transition towards net zero.

Thus far, he has self-funded the startup by a variety of means including waiting tables, Uber driving, and selling real estate. The funding from the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator is the first outside investment Crowell has taken.

Going forward, he’s laser-focused on ramping up their mine mapping services to generate cash flow so they can begin building-out autonomy for earthmovers. The company has signed its first Letter of Intent with Chilean Cobalt Corp., a cobalt-copper operation in the Atacama Region of Chile.

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