Autonomous 3D mapping drones are being utilised to improve efficiencies in agtech, a key growth area for Australian businesses.
Tapping into state-of-the-art research at UNSW has helped startup company Agronomeye develop sophisticated drone technology that provides precision monitoring data that can be used in agriculture.
Connecting business with research
Co-founder Stu Adam said that by flying drones across large crop areas, Agronomeye enables farmers to survey large areas of land to analyse crop and livestock health. These metrics greatly assist in agriculture management.
“With some farmers needing to survey around 10,000 hectares, you can imagine how much crop health can vary on one agriculture business,” said Adam, who developed the technology in partnership with UNSW through the TechConnect program.
TechConnect is part of the NSW Government’s $18 million Boosting Business Innovation Program designed to provide small businesses access to research organisations. The program’s objective is to build strong local business communities and stimulate economic growth in metropolitan and regional NSW.
TechConnect enabled Adam to tap into research knowledge, technical skills and world-class facilities to develop sophisticated, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.
How to partner with a university
A key challenge for Agronomeye was to develop robust systems for monitoring vast amounts of land and creating accessible pixel data. Another was manufacturing lightweight drone technology that could also withstand climate variables and harsh environmental conditions.
“We spoke to developers across the globe and no one was able to provide the solution we required and the team at UNSW ended up being a perfect fit,” said Adam.
“Partnering with the university exposed us to the best minds and technology available and has given us the tools we require to create efficiencies across cropping regimes.”
Adam says that by capturing accurate and actionable data for farmers, Agronomeye provides the information for highly targeted testing rather than random sampling. Drones can fly over large swathes of crop and use cameras and sensors to find variability in the planting area.
This allows the farm manager or agronomist to pinpoint possible problem sites and do highly targeted tests such as soil sampling, leaf-tissue testing and better manage their problems through variable rates of inputs such as fertilizer to meet the nutritional requirements of the crop.
“The technology provides massive efficiencies, better management of inputs and increased crop yield as a result,” he added.
UNSW’s Entrepreneur in residence Danielle Neale said that similar engagements between business and researchers are starting to develop long term relationships.
“All of NSW’s universities use the NSW Government’s “Boost” funding in different ways. At UNSW, our strategy is to find industry partners who can work with our researchers to spark new commercialisation journeys,” she said.
“Businesses are asked to make a contribution that is matched by the university through Tech Vouchers.”
UNSW industry partners also gain access to free courses at the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre, from design thinking and lean startup to digital fabrication.
More about TechConnect
TechConnect provides eligible businesses with up to $15,000 funding through TechVouchers. Businesses can also access other funding programs through the TechConnect initiative that gives start-up entrepreneurs, regional and metropolitan SMEs an ecosystem to innovate the future of technology.
More about Boosting Business Innovation
The $18 million Boosting Business Innovation Program is designed to provide small businesses access to research organisations. Its objective is to foster:
- a networked innovation ecosystem across NSW
- additional external funding
- more small to medium enterprises that can scale up and innovate
- more regional start-up sectors
- innovation clusters across the state
- access to high tech equipment and technical expertise research by SMEs and start-ups through TechVouchers
Find out more about Tech Connect
Find out more the NSW Government’s Boosting Business Innovation program.
Stu Adam and Danielle Neale were guest speakers at the Spark Festival Commercialising Research Forum convened by Inspiring Australia (NSW).