Feds back autonomous weederbot’s Halifax manufacturer

ACOA funding to support field-level trials

Nexus’ prototype R2-Weed2 system. (Nexus Robotics photo by Teric Greenan)

The federal government’s economic development agency for Atlantic Canada is putting up money for a new round of on-the-ground tests of a self-guided field-weeding robot.

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore on Wednesday announced a $550,000 repayable investment from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Regional Economic Growth Through Innovation program for Halifax-based Nexus Robotics.

Nexus, the government said, has developed an autonomous weeding robot capable of accurately weeding farmers’ fields 24 hours a day, seven days a week without harming crops.

The system “eliminates the need to use harmful pesticides or migrant labour to get rid of unwanted plants,” the government said, which thus helps “improve efficiency, saves money and decreases the farm’s environmental footprint.”

Originally billed as “R2-Weed2,” the company said on its website that its robot has gone to a new prototype dubbed “La Chevre” (the goat), using cameras and a neural network to differentiate between weeds and crops, as well as to recognize crops “at all stages of growth.”

Apart from weeding, La Chevre is also able to gather data about the crop and its growing conditions, for a farmer “to make more educated decisions about soil fertility and disease remediation.”

The ACOA funds will enable the company to “hire expertise and undertake field trials,” the government said, as well as to “conduct additional research and product development (and) manufacturing design work” and to develop marketing and sales plans for the system.

“By integrating advanced manufacturing and robotics into the weeding process, farmers can allocate their human resources towards more meaningful jobs and tend to their crops more efficiently,” Fillmore said in the government’s release.

Separately, ACOA has also put up a non-repayable contribution to “support the hiring of a chief executive officer to develop and implement financial and business procedures” for Nexus.

Nexus’ chief operating officer Teric Greenan said the additional grant will allow the company to hire a CEO “with decades of business experience.”

The CEO wasn’t named in the release but Nexus’ website lists its CEO as Luc Labbe, whose resume includes stints with Maple Leaf Foods, Quebec non-dairy beverage firm Soylutions and oat beverage firm Oatly.

In all, Greenan said Wednesday, “this funding will accelerate growth of the company and allow farmers to see the benefits of this technology sooner.”

Greenan was quoted in Grainews in April as saying the company expects a commercial release for its system sometime next year. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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