Swiss start-up ecoRobotix is improving agricultural productivity with new AI technologies for plant protection spraying. This allows farmers to cut their use of pesticides by up to 95%.
Improving agricultural productivity is the world's primary objective in ensuring the needs of a growing population don't outstrip our ability to supply food. Although new technologies have significantly increased productivity in recent years, there is still a lot of unexploited potential. The Swiss start-up ecoRobotix impressively demonstrates how AI can play a key role with a new AI-based crop care system for farmers.
The farming technology developed in Yverdon-les-Bains, in the canton of Vaud, deploys cameras and advanced machine learning algorithms in its plant protection spraying machine to precisely determine the type and location of weeds in different crops and identify crops that are infested with fungus or insects while the vehicle is driving. Spray jets then apply a microdose of the respective plant protection product – accurate down to an area as small as 3 x 8 cm. The innovative machine design protects beneficial insects such as bees and prevents spray drift. By comparison with conventional spraying machines, farmers are able to reduce their use of plant protection products by up to 95%. This means there is less pesticide residue in the food and farmers save money by using less of these products in the first place.
An agritech initiative from western Switzerland
Along with other technologies, robotics, drones, crop monitoring, imaging, input optimisation and fertiliser management are helping to improve yields and product quality. Digitalisation and the development of technological solutions have helped improve the efficiency of agricultural activities, allowing farmers to adopt more profitable practices that are also sustainable and environmentally friendly. This phenomenon, which the Swiss Government supports within the framework of its federal agricultural policies, is particularly prominent in the canton of Vaud.
Within a few years, western Switzerland has become a major European player in agritech and smart farming, with many new start-ups evolving. This was outlined by the 'Swiss agritechs' report (in French) recently presented by Cleantech Alps, the western Switzerland cleantech cluster.
New investment to accelerate high-volume series production
With the proceeds of a recent Series C funding of USD 14.7 million, ecoRobotix can accelerate its high-volume series production of an autonomous weeding robot and a mounted plant protection spraying machine in parallel with its European expansion. Further R&D efforts are geared to constantly adding new crops for treatment, and developing autonomous spraying solutions and new cloud-based services using advanced ICT technologies such as 5G.
ecoRobotix has already received a number of awards for its commitment to ecological innovation, including the Agricultural Robotics Innovation of the Year award at the AgTech Breakthrough Awards in 2020 and the Swisscom Startup Challenge in 2017.