Agerris raises $6.5m for smart farming robots

Agerris, an agricultural robotics start-up born out of research at the University of Sydney, has received a $6.5 million investment from Australia’s longest running research commercialisation fund, Uniseed.

Founded by University of Sydney Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, and 2019 NSW Australian of the Year nominee Salah Sukkarieh, Agerris is a robotics company that has commercialised two robotics platforms designed to improve the productivity of livestock and horticultural farmers.

The start up’s focus will be to equip farmers and growers with cutting-edge air and ground field robotic systems, intelligent tools and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, to help farmers save millions of dollars by improving the farm productivity, predict crop yields, reduce the need for pesticides and support animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

The investment is one of the largest seed investment rounds raised for agricultural technology in Australia. The funding will be used to formally launch the start-up and roll out its platforms and data analytics tools both in Australia and internationally.

“Agriculture and farming are experiencing demand for greater productivity due to a global population surge and rising incomes in developing countries. By 2050, experts have estimated that global food demand will increase between 59% and 98%. Farmers worldwide will need to increase production through enhancing agricultural productivity, yet many often struggle to afford the best customised advice for their farm, leading to sub-optimal yields and efficiencies from their crops,” Agerris’ Chief Executive Officer and Professor Sukkarieh said in a report by The University of Sydney.

“Livestock farmers, meanwhile, face a number of competing and complex issues, such as high labour and fuel costs, as well as animal welfare and mismanagement concerns. Our platforms help to mitigate these challenges and help increase productivity by giving farmers smart precision farming approaches, made possible through our advances in sensor technology and farming automation. At the same time, our technology also enhances animal welfare and environmental sustainability,” he explained.

The company’s Swagbot and Digital Farmhand robots enable farmers to identify and eradicate weeds, monitor pastures, row and tree crops, and will soon be equipped with functions to monitor animal welfare and herd cattle. Operating autonomously, Swagbot is an electric ground vehicle that can be used for a broad range of agricultural activities. It is able to identify and manage weed levels, monitor pasture quality and herd livestock. The platform will soon be able to monitor the welfare of grazing animals, and can be purpose-fit to deal with large scale row and tree cropping applications.

Digital Farmhand is a durable, low-cost autonomous robotics platform that automates on-farm tasks. The platform has been designed to assist smallholder row and tree crop farmers to better manage yields and crop health, including farmers in developing nations.

Agerris will initially trial and develop the two systems in Australia before pursuing global market opportunities, such as in South East Asia and South Pacific nations. It will be working towards developing a commercial offering for the Australian market within the next year.