November 23, 2020

Naïo Technologies

Based out of Toulouse France, Naïo Technologies is a clear leader in agricultural robotics, active in Europe, and now poised to expand globally.

Naïo Technologies

Agricultural Robots For Easier Farming

The agricultural sector is experiencing a massive proliferation of robotic technology that seeks to automate as much as possible. The promise is to achieve greater precision, increased yields, and lower costs/inputs.

Based out of Toulouse France, Naïo Technologies is a clear leader in agricultural robotics, active in Europe, and now poised to expand globally.

They currently have three robots, a modest weeding robot named Oz:

A larger weeding robot named Dino:

And a vineyard robot named Ted:

Given the wine industry in France, Ted the vineyard robot is their most advanced, and the one with the most experience.

Of the three, Oz is the most versatile, and Ted is the most specialized. Dino is the newest, and designed to work on larger industrial scale farms.

Oz is relatively small, comparable to a wheel barrow. However that size gives it a lot of flexibility when it comes to attachments and tasks. For example check out this video of Oz seeding:

Dino is the successor to Oz, as the company applied what they learned with the smaller machine, to one that is designed for larger farms that are more common in North America. As a French company, Naïo recently received an investment of capital towards expanding into the US.

Naïo Technologies announced that it has raised $15.5 million to expand its autonomous farming robots to the United States later this year.
Based near Toulouse, France, Naïo makes a range of robots designed to improve farming efficiency while also reducing dependence on chemical pesticides and herbicides. While the company already has 150 robots deployed in Western Europe, Japan, and elsewhere in North America, it plans to enter the U.S. market later this year.
“We are convinced that in 10 years there will be robots in all the fields across Europe and North America,” said Naïo Technologies CEO and cofounder Aymeric Barthes in a statement. “Our challenge may seem ambitious, but thanks to the support of our partners and the agriculture ecosystem, our goal to ensure the ecological and social transition toward more sustainable farming seems more tangible than ever.”

Dino costs roughly a quarter of a million dollars, which is the price of a medium sized tractor. Although in this case no diesel and it requires less attention from a human operator, at least it’s supposed to. Apparently in addition to selling the robots, the company rents and leases them.

In addition to helping manage crops and fields, these machines also gather data on their health and status. The combination of GPS and imaging allows the machines to identify and record the plants, sharing that data, while also acting upon it. Given that they’d be renting or leasing machinery, that may also put them in an advantageous position vis a vis data collection and the development of machine learning models.

These robots offer the potential to radically reduce pesticides, as the robots remove the weeds themselves. I wanted to say they remove them manually, but that’s obviously no longer the right phrase. Rather they remove them physically, using automation, and machine learning imaging. The company claims that their robots can in some cases entirely eliminate the need for pesticides.

This offers a tremendous opportunity for environmentally sustainable farming practices, as well as profitability. However as this technology imagines an altered agricultural approach, it may not be feasible to plug it into an existing operation, but rather anticipate how to harness its potential by adapting alongside it.

What is the trick to make the magic work between the farmer and his robot? Maybe the key is to remember that the robot is not magic. It is just another agricultural machine, a new, somewhat special tool that we need to learn to manage before letting roam along the rows.
We need also to bear in mind that success hinges on teamwork; a trio including the robot that carries out the tasks for which it was programmed, the manufacturer who works at continuously improving the robot to meet the needs, and the user who must be prepared to change a few habits and open up to new practices.

Robots represent a potential seismic shift in how the agricultural industry operates. Presently, farmers use heavy equipment as a means of farming at scale. The larger the equipment, the larger the scale.

Automation has the potential to go in the opposite direction. Achieving scale by going small, when it comes to equipment. Small and numerous. This is important both for environmental impact, literally when it comes to soil impact, but also energy usage, especially diesel vs electric.

The joke about robot labour is that it can work non-stop, but when it comes to electric vehicles charging up is obviously an issue.

The objective of this collaboration is to provide end-to-end solutions allowing for a remote charging station where no connection to the electricity grid is necessary. According to Naïo and Varta, this will be possible due to wireless solar or regenerative solutions, reducing the user interaction during operation.
When robots run out of battery power, they will navigate to their charging station by themselves. Naïo and Varta aim to provide farmers with the possibility to make use of a robot for 24 hours without worrying about power supply. This is to be a major advantage especially during high farming season.
Two proofs of concept have been launched to test the solutions feasibility: The first one will integrate Varta’s batteries in Oz, the first robot of Naïo Technologies dedicated to market gardeners. According to Naïo Technologies, the robot Oz is currently used by more than 120 farmers. The robot is targeted to gain greater than 30% more autonomy.
The second proof of concept consists of creating a solar charging station which can be used directly in the fields. According to Naïo and Varta, these field charging stations will be a world first for agricultural robotics.

Although that doesn’t mean that these machines have to operate in the day, they just need to rotate work so that they take the time to charge. For example here’s a video of Dino working at night:

Although what if just as grain carts ride along side combines to empty their load as they move so that the combine doesn’t have to stop, what if the same thing were to happen with charging robots. A special charging machine runs up along side of them and charges them up when they need it.

Certainly when it comes to robots, small is better. A fleet of robots working together can be far more efficient and nimble than traditional heavy machinery.

What’s interesting about Naïo is that unlike most of the companies we’ve profiled so far, they already have a range of robots on offer and evolving. Rather than focus on a single machine, they recognize the value of diversity, and one assumes, a herd of robots.

The company is clearly a leader in the emerging sector, especially given that they hosted the first international forum on the subject:

Though that may also be a by-product of Americans not being interested in holding international forums. ;)

As per usual, we’ll keep an eye on this company moving forward, and follow the development of their robots.

Finally, here’s an interview with a farmer in the US who has been using Dino:

Ottawa Valley Smart Farms