Halifax-based Nexus Robotics has received $550,000 in funding from the federal government to help it bring its weed-picking robot to the market next year.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced the funding on Wednesday, saying it has helped the company hire an experienced CEO and carry out ongoing field tests.
“The Nexus Robotics team is very appreciative to receive funding from ACOA to support our second field trial as well as hire a CEO with decades of business experience,” said Chief Operating Officer Teric Greenan in a statement. “This funding will accelerate growth of the company and allow farmers to see the benefits of this technology sooner.”
Founded in May 2017, Nexus Robotics set out to address a problem common to all vegetable farmers – the difficulty in removing weeds without damaging crops. In total, weeding costs North American farmers about $1.5 billion each year, said ACOA.
Traditionally, this task has been carried out by farm labour, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the challenges of bringing field personnel to farms during crises.
The Nexus product – which is called R2-Weed2 – uses artificial intelligence to distinguish between weeds and crops and remove the offending weeds efficiently.
The company has developed an autonomous robot capable of weeding farmers’ fields 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It eliminates the need to use harmful pesticides or migrant labour to get rid of unwanted plants. This helps to improve efficiency, saves money and decreases the farm's environmental footprint.
In an interview, Greenan said developing a working robot “has taken a long time because it’s a complex problem. It’s taken a while to get to the point where it’s actually functional and can remove the weeds without damaging the crops.”
The company about two years ago raised an initial round of funding that included a $75,000 investment from Montreal-based EcoFuel, and about $100,000 from Innovacorp. As the team worked on a second round, EcoFuel encouraged it to bring on a CEO with more experience in running companies.
In February, Nexus hired as its new Chief Executive Luc Labbé, who has held the top executive position in several companies in the agri-food space. ACOA is providing a grant of $50,000 to help with the hiring of Labbé.
The main $500,000 portion of the financing is a loan to help finance field tests. Next week, Nexus will begin field tests with Sherrington, Quebec-based VegPro International, the largest vegetable producer in Canada.
Next week, the team (which now amounts to 10 employees) will hold a demonstration for Nova Scotian farmers as it hopes to bring on customers in its home province.
Greenan – who declined to provide specifics of the coming funding round – said Nexus is working with Inertia Engineering of Toronto to manufacture the robots.
“They’re designing hardware for the robot that is really robust, more robust than what we have now, and that will allow us to focus on the software, which is the core of what we do.”
Disclosure: ACOA is a client of Entrevestor.