An Australian start-up is using robots to pull weeds and herd cattle

Key Points
  • The company, called Agerris, uses tech that has been developed at the University of Sydney's Australian Center for Field Robotics.
  • One of its robots has the capacity to herd livestock and will be able to monitor the welfare of animals.

An Australian start-up that develops robots which use artificial intelligence is hoping to soon sell its technology to the wider market.

The company, called Agerris, specializes in both "air and ground field robotic systems" for agriculture. It uses tech that has been developed at the University of Sydney's Australian Center for Field Robotics.

Earlier this week, Agerris secured 6.5 million Australian dollars ($4.64 million) in funding in the hope of developing and trialing products that can then be commercialized.

Early stage investment fund Uniseed said the money would be used to commercialize "robotics platforms, intelligent automated tools and artificial intelligence" with the aim of boosting agricultural productivity and sustainability. Uniseed, together with Carthona Capital and the BridgeLane Group, co-ordinated the investment.

"Farmers worldwide will need to increase production through enhancing agricultural productivity, yet many often struggle to afford the best customized advice for their farm, leading to sub-optimal yields and efficiencies from their crops," the CEO of Agerris, Salah Sukkarieh, said in a statement issued on the University of Sydney's website.

Sukkarieh explained that livestock farmers were facing a range of "competing and complex issues," citing the example of high labor and fuel costs and concerns surrounding animal welfare and mismanagement.

"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 added. "At the same time, our technology also enhances animal welfare and environmental sustainability."

One of Agerris' platforms is called Swagbot. An autonomous, ground-based vehicle, it uses onboard AI and other intelligent tools to undertake tasks such as identifying and eradicating weeds and monitoring pasture. It also has the capacity to herd livestock, and will be able to monitor the welfare of animals.

Technology is driving change across the agriculture sector. At the end of March 2019, fruit grower T&G Global announced that robotic harvesters were being used to carry out a commercial apple harvest in New Zealand.

The automated apple-picking robots have been developed by Abundant Robotics, a California-based technology firm.

"Developing an automated apple harvester requires solving a number of complex technical problems in parallel, from visually identifying harvestable fruit and physically manipulating it to pick without bruising, to safely navigating the orchard itself," Dan Steere, the CEO of Abundant Robotics, said at the time.

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