ecoRobotix : The robot is working in the field

ecoRobotix : The robot is working in the field

ecoRobotix is developing a solar-powered robot weeder.

Steve Tanner grew up on a farm in the Orbe valley, and as a child, he used to help his parents weed fields of sugar beet. This is a particularly demanding task and the young man still clearly remembers the crouched position and the repetitive, tiring actions required to pull out the roots. After studying at EPFL and obtaining a PhD in microtechnology, he wondered, "Surely it must be possible to devise a solution that uses robots instead of human beings and weedkillers?"


A positive partnership

In 2011, Steve Tanner met Aurélien Demaurex, a graduate of the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Lausanne, and talked to him about his idea of using a robot without any weedkillers. Aurélien was soon convinced of the merit of such a project. They worked together to develop a concept, at the same time producing a market study, which confirmed to them that this was a project with commercial potential. 

Their company was formed in 2011, with the name ecoRobotix, and the first prototype was completed shortly afterwards. To date, they have designed five, and their robot weeder is due to go on the market early in 2018. Ten robots have already been ordered by Grunderco, a Swiss distributor that specialises in selling agricultural equipment. Each robot costs approximately CHF 25,000.


Targeted treatment

Unlike competitor products, the ecoRobotix model is very light, weighing barely 130kg. This first version of the robot does not use articulated arms to pull out weeds, but instead sprays a small quantity of weedkiller on an area that has been delimited beforehand. "It uses a twentieth of the quantity of chemicals that a standard sprayer uses. What's more, it doesn't require an electrical connection, because it operates using solar energy," says Aurélien Demaurex, who presented the robot at the most recent Paris International Agricultural Show. Although ecoRobotix did use weedkiller for the first version of its robot, this was simply because only 10% of Swiss farms are organic. "In addition, to get this project going, it was technically the simplest model to produce," adds Aurélien Demaurex.

However, the start-up has not forgotten its initial robot project and is due to launch another version in 2019, which will destroy weeds without using weedkillers. 


Drones to assist robots

ecoRobotix is looking to the future with confidence. In 2016, it raised CHF 3 million in funding to continue its expansion, and it hopes to achieve a turnover of around CHF 100,000 in 2017. Its support comes from various quarters, including the Swiss Confederation, via research programmes, and also the Foundation for Technological Innovation (FIT) and the Vaud Canton. Its main aim is to become established in the Swiss market, but Aurélien Demaurex and Steve Tanner plan to extend their marketing operations to France and Belgium from 2018, and then eventually to Germany. 

Next, the start-up intends to improve the connectivity of its robots by using low-flying drones, which would gather information about the area to be weeded. These two young entrepreneurs from Vaud are determined not to miss out on the digital revolution in agriculture.


Source : Panorama des start-ups cleantech





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