TAURANGA, New Zealand — Robotics Plus, an agricultural robotics and automation company based here, today announced an $8 million investment from Japan’s Yamaha Motor Co. to support further growth plans. The investment brings Yamaha Motor’s total investment in Robotics Plus to $10 million, following a partnership agreement and investment of $2 million announced in March 2018.
“We are very pleased to have continued strengthening our partnership with Yamaha Motor and secured additional investment to support our vision to grow into a truly New Zealand, global business that will transform a number of industries,” said Steve Saunders, co-founder and chairman of Robotics Plus, who is also currently establishing a U.S. subsidiary for the company.
“This investment will allow us to take the company to the next level and attract and retain the world-class talent we need,” he added. “To stay ahead of the opportunity, we need to scale quickly, not just with our apple packers that are already in market, but also with our new UGV [unmanned ground vehicle] platform technology and other projects under development.”
Automation addressing agriculture labor shortages
Hiro Saijo, CEO of Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley, said Yamaha invested in Robotics Plus “to help us reach our goal to make agriculture more sustainable, healthy, and secure. To meet the significant and increasing agriculture demands of today and tomorrow, including agricultural labor shortage globally, we need to create sophisticated and precision robotics and automation technologies that will transform the agricultural industries.”
To accelerate the development of their next-generation automation solutions, Robotics Plus said it will leverage Yamaha Motor’s experience, knowledge and technologies in outdoor vehicles, factory automation, robotics, and design for manufacturing.
Matt Glenn, CEO of Robotics Plus, said the company will benefit from Yamaha’s specialist knowledge in precision automation, manufacturing, and access to components to help develop their technologies.
“Yamaha Motor can benefit from working with Robotics Plus as a world leading robotics and automation business focusing on the agricultural and horticultural markets,” he said.
“We have a highly skilled development team located close to orchards and other agricultural environments,” Glenn added. “We can rapidly prototype new ideas, validate new components, and integrate these into our robotic systems. This will also create new opportunities to develop technologies in other markets, too.”
In May, Robotics Plus’ robotic Āporo apple packers were the first in a suite of technologies to be commercially launched. The apple packer, which identifies and places apples in display trays, can safely handle up to 120 pieces of fruit per minute. It is being marketed by Global Pac Technologies, a Jenkins Group (NZ/Australia) and Van Doren Sales (U.S.) joint venture, and is already operating in packhouses in New Zealand and the U.S.
Beyond just packing apples
Other technologies under development to address major issues in the horticulture industry caused by labor shortages and increasing consumer demand for fresh fruit, include: an autonomous agricultural vehicle, robotic kiwifruit harvester, robotic pollinator, crop estimator, and a number of confidential projects.
Saunders said his Māori heritage has played a role in Robotics Plus’ development.
“Our core values of ‘he aronga nui’ (pioneering), ‘manaakitanga’ (collaboration), ‘tika me te pono’ (principled) and ‘kaitiakitangi’ (stewardship) resonate with Yamaha Motor’s values,” Saunders said. “We have a common desire to meet future challenges to feed the world in a sustainable way with smart automation and intelligent robotics.
“This partnership and going global is truly exciting,” he added. “The institutional knowledge Yamaha Motor brings creates a fantastic opportunity to develop our great young talent out of New Zealand.”
Glenn said Robotics Plus also has commercial partnerships with Global Pac Technologies, ISO Limited, and Trimax. The firm has established collaborative research relationships with the University of Waikato, the University of Auckland, Massey University, and Plant & Food Research.
Robotics Plus is also a founding partner of PlantTech, an industry-led research organization based in the Western Bay of Plenty.