Meet Antobot: affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture
Barn4 posed some questions to the Antobot team to learn more about their robotic technology, their goals for the future, and how they think Barn4 can help them achieve these goals!
What does Antobot do?
Antobot is an award-winning start-up developing affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture. With our modular robotic platforms, robotic “brain” the universal Robot Control Unit (uRCU®), cutting-edge AI and computer vision systems, we produce small autonomous solar-powered robots optimised for agriculture that are capable of performing various short cycle tasks which take up the bulk of growers’ time and energy.
We’re quite unique in that we are doing everything! We have designed our systems with full vertical integration so all our software and hardware is produced in-house by our talented team of engineers enabling us to have tight control over the technology as well as the price in order to deliver new technologies that are accessible and affordable to all farm businesses.
Our first full farming application is our scouting data service which autonomously navigates through crops collecting data on the yield, size and ripeness of both soft and top fruit, primarily strawberries and apples. We are currently in field trials with our partner farms and are excited to continue developing these computer vision capabilities using machine learning to deliver a highly accurate service for UK growers.
Can you introduce me to the Antobot team and their backgrounds, and explain why you started the business?
Antobot began the work of research and development of our technology in 2019 by two founders with backgrounds in the automotive industry. We are experts in embedded controls and autonomous systems and wanted to use this new technology in an industry that is vital to our modern society, under high pressure from the climate crisis alongside a declining labour force and in desperate need of innovation.
The inspiration for pursuing a model of full vertical integration also stemmed from our experiences in the automotive industry where a multitude of suppliers meant that the pace of innovation was often slowed or halted due to incompatibilities. This business structure has meant that we are able to build a diverse international team from a variety of backgrounds, just to name a few in below:
· A Chinese CEO with a Controls Engineering PhD from Cambridge University with 15+ years technology and business experience in the UK, China, and America
· A Welsh VP-Commercial with 20+ years' experience from Ford, a former rally racing car driver and a very fast runner
· An American Head of Software with a Computer Science PhD from Imperial College, speaking excellent mandarin and impressive ping-pong skills
· An Estonian Head of Robotics with a Mechanical Engineering PhD from UCL with 10+ years' experience from automotive industry in a top Tier technology consulting firm
· An English Business Development Manager graduate in Social Sciences from Oxford University with great passion for sustainability and health
Overall, we have a brilliant mix of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and almost half of our employees are women. This forms our tight-knit team which we truly believe to be one of our key strengths as a company.
Why did you decide to become a Barn4 member?
NIAB has a proven reputation for world-class crop science research and application, therefore working with their incubator Barn4 was an easy decision for us. With horticulture being our initial focus the specialist knowledge and advice from the Barn4 team will be very valuable.
We are also looking at sharing some of our core technologies with other ag-tech companies to accelerate adoption and development of new innovative solutions to farming issues. Membership to Barn4 will provide access to like-minded and ambitious companies that share our vision for collaboration.
What are your future goals for Antobot and how do you think Barn4 can help you achieve this?
We started in soft fruit harvesting for labour supply reasons, but when working with our partner growers we found that the lack of information farmers have on their crops as they grow is staggering, and the entire food supply chain is in need of systems-level change.
Through our scouting service, farmers can access real-time data on their crop, including yield and crop health, enabling early and precise action on crop issues whilst collecting data that further strengthens our machine learning models on fruit growth which will help to plan supply chain logistics and inform on the success of potential new methods in sustainable agriculture.
Our ultimate vision is to use the knowledge we gain through our scouting service to expand our full applications to various time-intensive and labour-intensive tasks like weeding, harvesting and spraying which can allow farms to become more, socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.
We would also like to support the development of innovative robotics within the industry through the licensing of our uRCU® which can help quicken the pace of commercialisation for many technologies in this growing area.
Barn4 will be instrumental in us achieving this vision by filling gaps in our knowledge in the hugely complex world of agriculture. The team have already directed us to opportunities that suit our goals and are supportive, knowledgeable, and keen to help us in any way.
If you were to give advice to another start up, what would that be?
Our advice to another start-up is these three top tips:
1. Focus on building the best team you can. We always say that the first 10 employees will make or break the company and we believe that we have the perfect group now to really fly
2. Be persistent and agile. Start-ups have limited resources, so you need to be persistent in where to play and where to focus on what to do. But you also need to be adaptive and iterative, always ready for the next move
3. Get closer with your customers. If you believe you are close to your customers, get closer. A good product can only be engineered with the customers fully onboard.
To learn more about Antobot and visit their website, click below.