Agerris delivers AI powered solutions for horticulture industry
An intelligent, machine-learning robot designed to overcome labour challenges, control weeds and improve crop yields is helping shape the future of sustainable farming in Australia. Now the agritech startup, Agerris is seeking a $5 million capital raise to develop its tech and move into international markets.
Horticulture has always been a labour-intensive industry. From tilling and sowing to weeding, monitoring and harvesting, the on-farm demands to produce a successful crop are not only relentless, but totally reliant on having the manpower to complete the tasks.
Sydney-based agritech startup Agerris, is developing a more efficient and sustainable alternative that will improve the working lives of farmers – the Digital Farmhand.
A self-driving robotic farmhand that understands the size and status of the crop and can act in real time to perform critical on-farm tasks, the Digital Farmhand reduces the reliance on labour and chemicals to improve sustainability.
Developed over 10 years at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney, this robotics technology has widespread potential to help improve food security in a sustainable way, allowing farmers to transform their on-farm operations through innovative technologies and real time AI systems.
Sowing the seeds for a robotics-led solution
Agerris Founder and CEO Salah Sukkarieh has been involved since the very beginning, as the former Director of Research and Innovation at ACFR, where Agerris originated and later became a commercial entity in April 2019.
“In 2010 I approached the Horticulture Industry Association to look at automation and robotics for agriculture. I had spent the previous 10 years working on large automation of both robotic ground and air vehicles for the mining, stevedoring [loading and unloading vessel cargo] and aerospace industries and could see that the same technology would have application in other areas,” said Salah.
“There were two main drivers. One was labour and labour efficiency, everything from planting and weeding all the way through to harvesting, and being able to put a robot in the environment that could do these tasks.
“The other driver was precision agriculture focused on sustainability, looking at areas such as reducing chemicals, minimising soil disturbance and minimising soil compaction.
“We were looking to develop a complete platform that had its own intelligence, sensing and tools onboard, a tightly integrated hardware-software piece that can do things such as weeding and spraying and eventually harvesting, but do that in a precise manner as a unified solution.”
Farmhand of the future delivers a sustainable, autonomous system
The result was the Digital Farmhand, an efficient, mobile solar-electric powered platform with real time machine learning on-board for per plant crop intelligence.
It uses a combination of GPS and camera-mounted control systems to autonomously follow paths, move along rows, navigate turns and avoid obstacles.
The onboard cameras and sensors can also provide crop intel for the farmer, collecting information and images at an individual plant level. It can learn about the different crops that have been planted, the factors that impact crop health and yield, and can identify the difference between crops and weeds.
“The whole system was developed with sustainability in mind – solar-electric, easy to build, light and compact, but at the same time with enough computational power internally to be intelligent and do the things that we need to do for the farmer,” said Professor Sukkarieh.
“The digital agronomy elements and the crop intel, has the ability to look at the growth rates of each individual plant, be able to aggregate that across the row and then onto the paddock. This is just touching the surface of its potential and you can really see what the gains are going to be around improving yields as well as supply chain management.”
The Digital Farmhand has been designed to use intelligent tools to act in real time, including a precision chipper that removes weeds as it travels along the vegetable beds leaving the crops undisturbed to grow in a healthy and chemical free environment. Future capabilities will be extended to include individual plant spraying, thinning, and harvesting, depending on the needs of the farmer.
Agerris is now looking to commercialise a second robotics solution, Swagbot – similar to the Digital Farmhand except it has a four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer structure for greater flexibility and agility. It’s geared for weeding and animal detection on large grazing plots for the livestock market.
Seeking investors to take agritech to the next level
Agerris continues to build its name in the agritech sphere, since participating in the 2020 evokeAG. Startup Program and showcasing its technology at Startup Alley, alongside 38 innovative agritech startups.
The Digital Farmhand is being utilised on a variety of vegetable and tree crop farming operations across Australia while the Swagbot technology has completed a successful trial on a livestock property and is ready to be deployed on other farms. With such momentum, Agerris is now seeking a $5 million capital raise, with its round closing in October 22, 2021.
“When we raised the seed funds the objective was to build two Digital Farmhands and figure out what the right avenue was to take it commercially,” explained Salah.
“Over the last eight months we’ve installed 14 robots on farms, all under commercial robotics-as-a-service or rental contracts with growers. We have another 10 being built and there’s a customer funnel leading to another 20 to 30 over the next couple of years.
“Part of our capital raising is to be able to commit to this customer funnel and also expand into more markets including Europe, because Europe has a very similar horticulture structure to Australia.
“The second aim is to secure funding towards the next level of technology development that’s required to keep growing vertically within that industry, with expanded digital agronomy functions and new intelligent tools for the robot.”
To enquire about Agerris investment opportunities, contact Salah Sukkarieh here.
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