Australian startup Agerris has closed its doors. CEO Salah Sukkarieh is now looking to build a modular version of its autonomous field robot, the Digital Farmhand, for smallholder farmers.
According to Crunchbase, Agerris was among the startups that failed in 2021. The website of Agerris has been offline for some time. Crunchbase says that Agerris has not been active since December 2021. Google describes the main office of the manufacturer in Chippendale, New South Wales as ‘temporarily closed’. The Twitter-account of Agerris is still active, but no tweets have been posted since September 2021.
The company raised a total of AUS $6.5 million (US $4.35M) in funding over one round in 2019. Agerris, that was spun out of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, raised the AUS $6.5 million with money from investors Uniseed, Carthona Capital, Stoic VC and BridgeLane Group.
The company was led by Salah Sukkarieh, a Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney. The main robot of Agerris was the autonomous field robot Digital Farmhand, that mechanically removes weeds and collects data as it travels along vegetable beds.
In October last year Agerris announced that it had four Digital Farmhands working on farms in Queensland, eight in Victoria and one in New South Wales. Four of these robots were sold to Kalfresh, a producer that has properties in Queensland. CEO Sukkarieh said he expected to build more Digital Farmhands for delivery in 2022.
Only two months later Agerris closed its doors, according to Crunchbase. Professor Sukkarieh’s team at the University of Sydney is now looking to build a localised, modular version of the Digital Farmhand autonomous field robot, using materials that can be readily sourced within the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, including electric/petrol scooter parts, making maintenance easier for communities. The team is also developing open-source artificial intelligence packages for smartphones which can be easily accessed in the APAC.
“Our studies and fieldwork have found that the issues concerning smallholder farmers in the APAC are no different to those in Australia, so we believe the technology can provide the same benefits. However, it is the economics of introducing the technology that requires different solutions”, Mr Sukkarieh said recently when addressing the United Nations on the role of agricultural robotics in improving global food security.
Mr Sukkarieh said that in its simplest form the Digital Farmhand is a small, autonomous electric tractor-like vehicle that can tow a variety of implements such as seeders, weeders and bed preparation tools, and can undertake precision automation of many labour-intensive farm tasks, like weeding, spraying and seeding. Digital Farmhand can also use accessible smartphone technologies along with AI to provide crop analytics such as yield estimation or pest and disease identification.
Mr Sukkarieh was not available to answer questions about the Digital Farmhand.