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‘Vive la AgRobolution!’ Naïo Tech raises €14m Series A to build more agri-robots

January 9, 2020

The French agri-robotics manufacturer Naïo Technologies has raised a €14 million ($15.6 million) Series A funding round, one month after grabbing headlines by hosting its fourth International Forum of Agricultural Robotics, known by its French acronym of FIRA.

France’s national investment bank Bpifrance led the round, flanked by Pymwymic, a European community of impact investors, alongside Naio’s existing shareholders Demeter and Capagro. It follows a seed round of €3 million in 2015.

Founded in 2011 by robotic engineers Aymeric Barthes and Gaëtan Séverac and based in Toulouse, Naïo manufactures and markets agricultural solutions in collaboration with farmers. Its weeding robots, according to a press release sent to AFN, have been designed “to specifically respect both the environment and man: they provide a solution to assist farmers in their daily work, reduce the strenuous physical workload and limit the use of chemical weedkillers. This new investment round will enable Naïo Technologies to further capitalize on its position as a leader in agricultural robotics and reach the next level of technology maturity in order to prepare the robots for mass production.”

In a statement, Barthes, who is Naio’s CEO, noted having made progress on navigation, user experience and security aspects. “This makes our robots a solid base for precision farming,” he said. “Our next step is to focus on further increasing the reliability of our robots as well as developing an efficient and large-scale deployment strategy.”

Oz, Dino and Ted

At the time of writing, the company says it has deployed nearly 150 robots in Europe and North America in farms and vineyards. It has three models — Oz, Dino, and Ted — each of which (or whom!) this reporter met on his recent visit to FIRA in Toulouse. In presentations and in conversations on the sidelines, I heard how Naïo has developed a standard navigation system for agricultural robots. This navigation system, the company claims, can be implemented on any off-road robot which enables its use with many crop types.

Speaking to AFN over wine and cheese on the opening night at FIRA, Barthes’ co-founder Gaëtan Séverac sounded bullish about the imminent and radical adoption of agri-robots; his company had even placed signs at the event calling for an “agrobolution.”

“In the next 10 years, there will be robots in every field of Europe and North America. We recognize that the challenge is very ambitious, but we are convinced that we can meet it alongside our partners and stakeholders. Our goal is to ensure the ecological and social transition to sustainable agriculture,” he said in a statement accompanying the funding news.

This vision will have some holdups. Regulatory requirements could make life harder, and for hardware companies like Naïo and many others present at FIRA, the problem for their models has always been versatility, affordability, connectivity, energy, and reliability. Those problems will remain headaches for these companies, even with advances in AI and 5G connectivity rolling out; though potentially the emergence of companies providing robotic ‘weeding-as-a-service’ might help on the financial viability side. Equally, a consumer push for fewer chemicals in their food or wine, and a tight labour market in rural areas, might hasten adoption.

Laura Panquet of the Ecotechnologies Fund of Bpifrance, certainly seems to think so: “Naïo enables farmers to transition their farms using the rise in precision farming and sustainable farming,” she says in a statement, “and allows them to meet both customer demand and current and forthcoming regulatory constraints regarding the limitation of chemical inputs in the fields.”

Is an agrobolution upon us? Drop me a note at [email protected].

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