The following post is from Innovacorp marketing & communications assistant Michael Bochoff.
What began as a passion for growing food has blossomed into a successful entrepreneurial venture for Nexus Robotics, providing farmers with a reliable and cost-effective way to produce crops.
For Teric Greenan, Nexus Robotics COO, it all began when he started a farm in Lunenburg County with a friend in 2015. After speaking with older farmers, he realized quickly the amount of manual labour and tedious tasks drastically hurt farm profits.
“There’s a lot of wasted potential,” said Teric. “We’re trying to eliminate the need for hiring big crews because labour is becoming a lot more expensive.”
When Teric approached his partner Thomas Trappenberg, Nexus Robotics CEO, the initial idea was to build an agricultural robot that could do many different things. After recruiting his friend Jad Tawil, Nexus Robotics CTO, to develop the software, the team narrowed their focus on the main problem plaguing farmers. “Weeding is the biggest issue. Hands down,” said Teric. “It’s a monotonous and mind-numbingly repetitive task, but a necessity in farming.”
Compared to large-scale commodity crops like corn, wheat and soy beans, weeding is a particular nuisance to vegetable farmers. “Since crops like wheat and corn are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides, farmers can spray strong herbicides that will kill most, if not all, weeds,” said Teric. “Vegetable crops aren’t resistant to the herbicide, so they have to spray more benign herbicides that will kill some, but not all, of the weeds.”
Teric and the Nexus Robotics team created an autonomous machine called R2-Weed2, which uses a camera system to differentiate between weeds and crops. Not only will the machine be capable of cutting and spraying weeds, it will also be able to fertilize crops and collect data about the crop and growing conditions.
Nexus Robotics won $32,000 in Innovacorp’s Spark Innovation Challenge last fall, and later landed a spot in Innovacorp’s six-month acceleration program for clean technology start-ups. They have been able to use the funds to hire two software developers and an engineer to help design and build the prototype.
The hard work has paid off. In May, the company placed first in an international robotics competition in Indiana. And the team is on course to have a functioning robot by next year and have it operating on several farms across Nova Scotia by the 2020 growing season.
“In the beginning, we had no idea what the robot would be for specifically but this is actually a real thing now,” said Teric. “We’re excited about our progress and the opportunities ahead of us.”
Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 5, 2018