WATCH: Aerobotics uses artificial intelligence to make farming easier

By Gabriella Steyn Time of article published Oct 16, 2018

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CAPE TOWN – Aerobotics, a Cape Town-based artificial intelligence company wants to make farming easier with its technology in South Africa.

By using aerial imagery from drones and satellites and machine learning algorithms the company found a way to spot early pest and disease detection on tree farms and to optimise crop performance for farmers around the world. 

"We are lucky enough to have access to some of the best, tech-savvy farmers globally, who have been sharing knowledge with us from day 1 to help build solutions aimed at helping with key problems faced on the farm", the company told Business Report. 

The company's cloud-based web application, Aeroview, provides farmers with insights, scout mapping and other tools to mitigate damage to tree and vine crops from pest and disease.

The company was founded by James Paterson Aerobotics Co-Founder and Chief Executive and Benji Meltzer Aerobotics Co-Founder and chief technology officer. 

James Paterson grew up in a farming family in the Western Cape, South Africa. He holds a BSc in Mechatronics Engineering from UCT, where he won awards for building aerial and ground robots. 

Benji Meltzer has taken a keen interest in data science and analytics, looking to use cutting edge technology to solve real-world problems. He has relevant experience through studying a MSc in Neurotechnology at Imperial College London and working as an Analytics Manager at Uber

Aerobotics was self-funded for the first 2 years of operation through proceeds made from building and selling hardware (drones). 

"We then raised our seed round in funding in 2017 from 4Di and the Savannah Fund. Recently we were recently lucky enough to have raised $2 million in our Series A funding, led by Nedbank", said the company in an email response to questions. 

Here is how their farming app works:

  • A farmer or Aerobotics service provider flies a drone equipped with multispectral and visual cameras.
  •  The imagery from these flight is uploaded to Aerobotics’ artificial intelligence and software, where the data is stitched together to map the individual trees down to the canopy level.
  • The technology can determine stress levels of each tree relative to the part of the farm that was flown by the drone and pinpoint them on a map of the farm. 
  • That data is sent to Aerobotics Aeroview software, where is automatically generates a scout map for the farmers, so they can visit the trees and determine what is causing stress.
  • The scout map can be used to fly automatic drone scouting missions, where the drone will fly down to within 5 meters of the tree, snap and image and send it to Aerobotics proprietary pest and disease identification software.

When asked why the company chose to focus on farming, they just saw an opportunity in the sector.

"We saw a huge opportunity in agriculture, where farmers suffer huge losses during production largely due to pest and disease. We wanted to help farmers leverage data to derive decisions that they could actively make to better manage their risk and crop," said the company. 

Aerobotics has clients in 11 countries, including the USA, Spain, Australia and the UK.

In Africa, Aerobotics has clients in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique. 




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