Australia’s LYRO Robotics, a startup building robots and AI for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, recently raised A$1.5 million ($1.07 million) in seed funding from investors including machinery manufacturer Toyo Kanetsu and agrifoodtech VC firm AgFunder.
AFN got the chance to chat with LYRO co-founders Juxi Leitner (JL) and Nicole Robinson (NR) to learn more about their company’s fundraise and its produce-packing robots.
AFN: What problem is LYRO trying to solve, and how does your tech offer a solution?
NR: The current food supply chains are brittle and external pressure is increasing. Given that there are billions of dollars’ worth of post-harvest food loss and waste, it’s more important now than ever before to find ways to strengthen the food supply chain. Our robots have the capacity to address the need for increased food demand, as well as labor becoming increasingly hard to find and retain in food-packing services. They can continue to pick up and pattern-pack fruit and vegetables into boxes or crates, getting it ready to be shipped to stores, customers, or other vendors.
AFN: What gives your company its competitive edge and differentiates it from others trying to solve the same problem?
JL: Our software, LYRO Machine Intelligence, can identify and learn how to pick and pack different types of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh produce can be all sorts of different shapes, weights, colors, and sizes, which makes it tricky for creating a system that can pick up and pack different types of food items into a box. Our system is able to work with a large diversity of fruits and vegetables, which means that LYRO Machine Intelligence can be used to boost the packing process for many different produce types. Our robots can pick up and pack a large variety of produce, such as avocados, oranges, lemons, zucchini, limes, mandarins, grapefruits, rockmelons, honeydew melons, cucumbers, chillies, sweet potatoes, watermelons, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, pears, capsicums, broccoli, and ginger.
NR: Our system is retrofittable to existing operations, making it easy to get started with smart packing robots with a rapid installation time. Our system can also be used in food-packing industries for order fulfillment, such as meal boxes and grocery orders, opening up a wide range of opportunities in adjacent markets. LYRO also offers its robots to customers using a ‘robots as a service’ model, helping to provide cost-effective solutions to businesses based on seasonality and packing volume.
AFN: What have been some of the biggest challenges for your company so far? What have been some of the biggest successes?
JL: Our biggest challenges have been around adapting and perfecting our LYRO Machine Intelligence technology for agricultural use cases. Each piece of fruit and vegetable is a little bit different, so you need to design and deploy an intelligent system that can handle all variations that might come right off the farm. Our biggest successes have been when we’ve deployed our solution on a farm and seen the positive impact that makes on produce-packing efficiencies and farmer profit margins. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the technology in action, knowing that robotics can help right now, on site, to assist in reducing food waste and boosting pack operations to make sure that fruit and vegetables get to people when they’re still fresh and ready to eat.
AFN: What does ‘impact’ mean to you personally, and to your organization? Why is social and environmental impact so important?
NR: We want to use robots for good; to create a positive impact, to better food security through the supply chain. Impact to us would mean having our robots out there helping farmers, warehouse managers, food companies, and packing lines, to get their food products picked, packed, and into the supply chain. In doing so, impact would mean helping to get fresh produce through the supply chain faster to enable more people to enjoy fresh and high-quality food products.
JL: Impact for us also means being able to positively contribute to helping to reduce food wastage, increase sustainability, and create a positive impact on the environment in the process. Given that food waste contributes to a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions, we want to ensure that fresh produce is not left at the farm with no means of getting to people who will consume it. Our robots are designed to help keep this process flowing as smoothly as possible, so consumers can continue to enjoy all of their favourite fruits and vegetables from their local stores.