Israeli startup chooses Australia to trial pollinating robots

04 Aug 2020

The absence of bumblebees in Australia was a major reason why Arugga AI Farming chose the country to trial its robotic pollinators.

The Israeli startup has developed an artificial intelligence-powered robot to pollinate tomatoes grown in greenhouses.

‘Around the world, pollination in greenhouses is typically performed using commercially produced bumblebee hives, but these bees don’t pollinate well in certain conditions, and they’re actually banned in Australia,’says Iddo Geltner, Chief Executive, Arugga AI Farming, in an ABC Rural news story.

Australia’s large number of tomato greenhouses and lack of bumblebees made the country an ideal location to test Arugga’s pollinating robot.

‘It autonomously drives along the rows, finds flowers that are ready for pollination using artificial intelligence, and sends air pulses to vibrate the flowers in a very specific manner to imitate buzz pollination as performed by bumblebees,’ explains Geltner.

Arugga is testing its pollinating robot at a greenhouse facility in New South Wales that belongs to one of Australia’s leading vegetable growers. This commercial grower is a leading horticulture company and has adopted technology across every stage of its production. 

‘As far as we know, greenhouse farming is the fastest growing [agricultural] sector in Australia, so we've started with this grower in NSW, but later on will look to work with other growers in different states,’ says Geltner.

The global greenhouse farming sector is growing at more than 5% a year. In Australia, the greenhouse tomato industry alone is worth A$900 million a year, according to Jonathan Eccles, Director at Protected Cropping Australia.

He explains that tomato flowers are manually pollinated using a vibrating wand, a costly and time-consuming process that adds an estimated A$25,000 a hectare to the production of greenhouse tomatoes.

‘If we can find another method, like a robot, that's effective and doesn’t do any damage to the flowers, that would be a great innovation,’ says Eccles.

Austrade has worked with Arugga since 2018 to help the startup grow its profile in Australia. Austrade has invited Arugga to meetings, webinars and roundtables with Australian government and industry representatives and alerted the company to R&D funding opportunities.

In 2019, Austrade introduced Arugga to one of the founders of SparkLabs Cultiv8, which led to Arugga’s acceptance into the accelator program. In the same year, Austrade invited Arugga to make a submission to showcase its technology at evokeAG 2020, the Asia-Pacific region’s premier agrifood tech event. Arugga went on to become one of five winners of the international startup showcase at the event.

‘Austrade Tel Aviv has been amazingly supportive and useful since our relationship first began. If you are an Israeli company interested in expanding and investing in Australia, I highly recommend you approach Austrade,’ says Geltner.

Find out more about investing in Australia or contact Austrade for more information.