Yamaha backs Bay robotics company – again

Dr Alistair Scarfe and Robotics Plus co-founder and chairman Steve Saunders, with his company’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

Bay of Plenty-based Robotics Plus has attracted another US$8 million worth of investment from Yamaha Motor Co Ltd of Japan to support its ambitious growth plans.

The investment brings Yamaha Motor’s total investment in the NZ agricultural robotics and automation company to $US10m, following a partnership agreement and investment of US$2m in March.

Robotics Plus co-founder and chairman Steve Saunders, who is establishing a US subsidiary for the company, says the strengthening partnership with Yamaha Motor and secured additional investment will support the company’s vision to grow into a truly NZ, 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.”

Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley CEO Hiro Saijo says they’ve invested in Robotics Plus to help reach their 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 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.

Mutually beneficial

Robotics Plus CEO, Dr Matt Glenn, says it’s 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 Aporo 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’s 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 NZ and the US. 

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.

Fantastic opportunity

Steve says the 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 NZ.”

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 NZ, and the way we can achieve that faster is with the support of an international company like Yamaha Motor.”


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