University of Sydney agricultural robotics spin-out, Agerris, has raised $6.5 million to commercialise two robot platforms for precision farming.
The startup will use the funding to launch, begin manufacture of two tractor-like systems, named Digital Farmhand and SwagBot, and “to roll out its platforms and data analytics tools both in Australia and internationally.”
Agerris is led by Professor Salah Sukkarieh (pictured), who led the university’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics between 2007 and 2018 and was nominated as NSW Australian of the Year this year. Beginning with automated weed detection by drone 15 years ago, Sukkarieh has been involved in numerous industry-supported projects investigating field robotics for purposes such as weeding, precision herbicide spraying, and yield estimation.
Farmers face a range of challenges that autonomous systems could potentially address. These include a need to increase productivity to meet a growing population, to operate more sustainably and with fewer chemicals, workforce demographic changes, and – for livestock farmers – animal welfare 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,” he said in a statement.
“At the same time, our technology also enhances animal welfare and environmental sustainability.”
The average age of farm workers in Australia is 56, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The funding round includes University of Sydney’s Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group. According to Carthona, the $6.5 million investment is larger than the sum of venture capital agtech attracted through the whole of 2017.
Carthona partner Dean Dorrell told The Australian Financial Review that the agtech sector had been “massively underfunded” in the past, and that he hoped this could be a watershed moment.
Picture: University of Sydney
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