While there are many up-and-coming players in the highly specialized agricultural robotics market, few have enjoyed the success, longevity and name recognition of Naïo Technologies. A pioneer in autonomous farming and wine-growing solutions, Naïo got its start in 2011 with an idea for an agricultural assistant named Oz.
It didn’t stop there. The industry leader added vineyard straddle robot Ted and autonomous vegetable crop weeder Dino soon after. All three machines are around today, but Naïo is just getting started. It will continue to tap into a vast pipeline of ideas to bring additional solutions to customers near and far. Naïo’s forthcoming prototype Jo - a small robot with caterpillar tracks that’s designed to navigate narrow vineyards, nurseries and small fruit orchards—will begin its journey to market over the next few years.
Now, with more than 160 Oz robots operating in 15 countries, Ted making its US debut this year and Orio (an evolution of Dino) testing the technical updates that were made to better meet customers’ needs, Naïo has started thinking bigger. The company has begun exploring new ways to bring its autonomous solutions to farmers around the globe.
“We are looking for dealers that are able to promote and sell this robot everywhere in the world,” says Julien Laffont, Strategy & Business Development Manager at Naïo. “Our main challenge going forward will be to scale up sales operations in new places. For that, we need dealers and partners who are ambitious and have extensive knowledge about the ag markets where they are operating. We do not have the ability to observe and know everything about the various markets around the world, so we will need the help of others.”
Laffont says that Naïo is exploring a number of different partnership models. Each robot requires a different approach, which means there are several opportunities for manufacturers, dealers and retailers to collaborate with Naïo.
Oz, for example, needs dealers who can facilitate sales directly to growers. Because Oz has been tested in numerous places and under a wide range of conditions, Naïo is confident that it can address potential issues from afar. Ted and Orio, which have primarily been tested in France, have more limitations around where they can be sold. For those robots, Laffont says, Naïo will primarily seek out dealers in European countries and North America in 2022.
Although dealers make ideal partners for selling Naïo’s current product line, the automation pioneer has big dreams for the future of farming. Realizing these transformational goals requires the help of the industry’s most established players.
“The other kind of partners that we are looking for are major farming companies that are interested in working closely with us on the definition of what they expect from our robots,” Laffont says. “We can make customizations according to their needs and work on the deployment reach of each robot. This is important when we speak about fleet management because the robots need to work together. They need to drive to different areas, perform well, fit into the logistics of the operation and be supervised in a way that is safe. There’s also the issue of robot security. This is the expertise that we have and are willing to share with big farming and agriculture companies.”
While Naïo is proud of its robots and what it is creating, the company also understands that operations are likely to purchase autonomous solutions from many suppliers. This means Naïo robots need to be able to coexist with other machines. After all, working together is the fastest way to realize a fully autonomous operation.
“There will be a lot of robots coming in the next few years,” Laffont says. “We believe that we need to start working on how to integrate a range of technologies and applications. We want to have a clear strategy around how we go about developing fleets of robots in the future.”
In the meantime, Naïo will continue to develop niche robots using its same core software platform. This platform is the secret sauce that enables Naïo to create new robots at a lightning-fast pace while introducing additional capabilities over time. The company is on the verge of revealing new monitoring tools that are sure to make it even more attractive to potential partners.
“Robot supervision is a very important topic for us right now,” Laffont says. “We have developed remote tools that, in the next few months, will be able to show any user or operator exactly what the robot is doing in real time. A person will be able to use their iPad or tablet to monitor the quality of the jobs the robot is performing and ensure that there isn’t any damage to the crops. Having a core software system that we are able to expand on has been a huge competitive advantage.”