Australian Agerris has raised AUD $?6.5 million from deep tech investors Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group to produce its new robots. The company expects commercial engagement with some of its early adopters soon.
Agerris was launched in April last year and now employs 14 full time engineers. The company was born out of research at the University of Sydney. “We‘re now working towards commercialisation”, says Agerris chief executive Salah Sukkarieh. “Our team has been building up our robots and we‘ve been doing a lot of trials on farms.”
The robot company has been mainly focussing on horticulture. There are two robot types Agerris manufactures. The first, Digital Farmhand, targets smaller size farms with vegetables and tree crops. It will be able to help farmers with autonomous non-chemical weed removal, intelligent crop spraying and yield estimation.
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The second, Swagbot, is more suitable for larger areas and grazing livestock. This autonomous robot can identify and eradicate weeds but is also able to monitor pastures and crops. According to Mr Sukkarieh it will one day have the ability to herd cattle as well.
“Both robots are meant to be intelligent, so they are not just gps guided platforms”, explains Mr Sukkarieh. “They will have the capacity of same time machine learning and can do things like weed detection and removal at the same time. The platform and the machine learning algorithms are ready. We are now looking at the tool systems. Our robots can work up to 24 hours a day and can operate in all weather.”
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For the first commercial product Agerris is focussing on farmers in horticulture and aims to deliver a price-competitive service. “In horticulture there are some very big growers but you have also got a large cohort of mid size growers. It is not the case that they can’t afford the robot itself but when you‘re dealing with automation, you have to worry about operations as a total as well.”
Agerris will offer farmers an opportunity to firstly build up the robotic system on their farm. “If we provide our service on their farm first, farmers will get some benefits straight away”, Mr Sukkarieh says. “Simultaneously they will start to build up the operational tools that they need around them. That way it becomes a much more permanent benefit on their farm.”
The Digital Farmhand will also be able to assist in the movement of product. “Moving crates and products around the farm for example”, Mr Sukkarieh says. “In the initial stages it will be important to get a robot to robustly and safely move anywhere around the farm. To go up and done some rows and do some product handling.”
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At the same time the robots can gather information for tasks like yield forecasting. “Down to the individual plant”, emphasises Mr Sukkarieh. “Collecting data is a big thing that can help. We can then move into the intelligent autonomous weeding as well.”
Mr Sukkarieh expects commercial engagement with some of the early adopters of the technology soon. “And then we will slowly start to ramp that up as we go through the year”, he explains. “Farmers will pay for the service that Agerris provides. It would be the same as if you would hire labour.”
Farmers will initially get the opportunity to learn a lot more about their operational aspects, Mr Sukkarieh points out. “In these early stages there is a lot to learn but in the long term our service can lead to something permanent on the farm.”