As one passes by the farms in Shintomi Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, it seems unassuming to the eye that something new and innovative is happening within the greenhouses. For the past 3 years, a nimble venture company has been working towards their mission of tackling global agriculture challenges right behind these walls.
With 67 being the average age of Japanese farmers, there is a growing labor shortage and abandoned cultivated land problem affecting the agricultural industry. In turn, the slow pace of harvesting is also leading to low yields and the spreading of pests. These issues combined are the key factors that startup company AGRIST is aiming to solve.
The solution: an automated harvesting robot.
The stand-alone robot hangs and runs on a wire laid within the greenhouses, allowing the robot to avoid obstacles traditional rolling robots face like fallen leaves and muddy conditions. Using AI identification technology, the robot identifies and picks the fruit (currently bell peppers and cucumbers) from the plant. These robots can run on a single charge for 8hours straight, longer than a human farmer can maintain, reducing the number of missed harvests and increasing the yield by allowing the bell pepper plants to stay healthy
The team used a model-based design approach with MATLAB and Simulink which lowered the number of needed prototypes and lessened their development design cost, something startups know is very valuable when resources are tight. The tools also allowed them to debug in real-time in the field, allowing a more streamlined and efficient process when needing to alter the Robot.
Ultimately, the team has made huge strides in their goals of innovating the agriculture industry. In 10 years, they hope to create a situation where agriculture using robots is commonplace; where this is not a “harvesting robot” but an “automatic harvester” and it is recognized as one of the common farm tools, not a new one. Additionally, the startup is working on optimizing farming methods using robots as an overall system, including greenhouses, to realize next-generation agriculture with higher profitability.
Hear more from Hiroki Hata and the AGRIST team in this month’s startup short!
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