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Field robotics start-up receives $6.5 million investment

A field robotics start-up based on technology created by the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics 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 an intelligent 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 improve farm productivity and to support animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

To support Agerris’s development of agricultural robotics systems, intelligent automated tools and artificial intelligence, 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.

Leading Agerris as CEO, Professor Sukkarieh believes that 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 per cent and 98 per cent.

“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,” said Professor Sukkarieh.

“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,” he explained.

“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.”

An electric ground vehicle that can be used for a broad range of agricultural activities, Swagbot, will be one of two technologies underpinning the project’s commercialisation. Operating autonomously, Swagbot 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.

A second durable, low-cost autonomous robotics platform that automates on-farm tasks, Digital Farmhand, will also be developed by Agerris. 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.

Enabling the $6.5 million funding, Uniseed invested in Agerris alongside leading venture capital firms, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group, both of which support technology-based start-ups in the early stages of commercialisation.

The University of Sydney is a partner in Uniseed, a venture fund dedicated to commercialising university research, currently launching a new $50 million investment fund.

Uniseed Investment Manager, Anthony Musumeci believes both technologies will act as a growth engine for the Australian sector and will attract overseas interest.

“Agerris has developed groundbreaking technology that not only addresses the growing need for increased agricultural productivity but promises to radically transform the farming process and make Australia a world-leader in intelligent farm systems,” said Musumeci.

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