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Yamaha Motor invests an additional $8 million in agritech startup Robotics Plus

Yamaha Motor has made a second investment of $8 million into an agricultural automation and robotics innovator, bringing its total investment to $10 million.

Robotics Plus, a New Zealand agricultural robotics and automation company, says it will use the investment support its “ambitious growth plans”.

Yamaha’s initial partnership agreement and investment of $2 million was announced in March 2018. 

Steve Saunders, co-founder and chairman of Robotics Plus, who is currently establishing a US subsidiary for the company, says: “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.

“This investment will allow us to take the company to the next level and attract and retain the world-class talent we need. 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 unmanned ground vehicle platform technology and other projects under development.”

Robotics Plus Apple Packer copy

Hiro Saijo, CEO of Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley, says: “We’ve 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 labour 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 will leverage Yamaha Motor’s experience, knowledge and technologies in outdoor vehicles, factory automation, robotics, design for manufacturing and manufacturing.

Robotics Plus CEO, Dr Matt Glenn
Robotics Plus CEO, Dr Matt Glenn

Dr Matt Glenn, CEO of Robotics Plus, says: “We’ve developed a mutually beneficial commercial relationship with Yamaha Motor.

“We can benefit from their specialist knowledge in precision automation, manufacturing and access to high-quality components to help us develop our 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.

“We have a highly skilled development team located close to orchards and other agricultural environments. 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 fruit per minute. It is being marketed by Global Pac Technologies, a Jenkins Group (NZ/Australia) and Van Doren Sales (US) joint venture, and is already operating in packhouses in New Zealand and the USA.

Dr Alistair Scarfe (left) and Steve Saunders, with Robotics Plus unmanned ground vehicle.
Dr Alistair Scarfe (left) and Steve Saunders, with the Robotics Plus unmanned ground vehicle.

Other technologies under development to address major issues in the horticulture industry caused by labour 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 says his Māori heritage has played a role in Robotics Plus’ development.

He says: “Our core values of ‘he aronga nui’ (pioneering), ‘manaakitanga’ (collaboration), ‘tika me te pono’ (principled) and ‘kaitiakitangi’ (stewardship) resonate with Yamaha Motor’s values.

“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. The institutional knowledge Yamaha Motor brings creates a fantastic opportunity to develop our great young talent out of New Zealand.”

Dr Glenn says: “If we want to solve the big agricultural issues of the future we need to support the horticultural and agricultural industries with innovative solutions that will enable them to do things differently.

“We have the ability to solve big global challenges like this from New Zealand, and the way we can achieve that faster is with the support of an international company like Yamaha Motor.”

Robotics Plus is well positioned to deliver on its vision to be a world leader in robotics and automation technology for the food and fibre industries.

Dr Glenn adds: “In addition to Yamaha Motor, we also have commercial partnerships with Global Pac Technologies, ISO Limited and Trimax.

“We’ve also established valuable collaborative research relationships with the University of Waikato, the University of Auckland, Massey University and Plant & Food Research, and we are a founding partner of PlantTech, an industry-led research organisation based in the Western Bay of Plenty.

“Our innovation and growth plans are well supported by our private investors as well as New Zealand Government agencies, Callaghan Innovation, NZTE, MBIE, MPI and TPK.”