Stepping into the future with Niqo Robotics’ AI-Driven Precision Farmtech
In the next decade, farm labor will get scarcer, natural resources more precious, and agri inputs increasingly expensive. Farm machinery will be vital to ensure the future of Indian agriculture. The digital revolution in agritech is as critical as innovative agri machinery is crucial. In the latter category, AI-driven innovations are fast emerging as critical tools to grow food smartly and sustainably. Niqo Robotics, formerly TartanSense, is a great example of an agri robotics startup building precision farm machinery designed to serve smallholder farmers in India.
Evolve, shift, and rebrand.
While building precision farm tech for smallholder farmers has always been the core ideology for Niqo, the product offering has changed since the startup began its journey as TartanSense in 2015. The rebrand to Niqo Robotics happened just as the startup transitioned from lab to land with the cutting-edge, green-on-green AI spot spray technology — Niqo RoboSpray.
The startup’s proprietary sprayer technology leverages real-time, AI-assisted computer vision to selectively spray agrochemicals such as pesticides and liquid fertilizers on crops. With a fleet size of 50, this will be the world’s largest commercial deployment of AI-powered robotic sprayers. Niqo, derived from the word “Nikolaos” meaning Victory of the People, is befitting for a brand dedicated to making farmer-centric innovations.
It is a product problem, not a farmer problem.
For almost a decade now, the startup has been working with progressive Indian farmers who stay abreast of the latest agritech innovations across the world. These farmers offered Niqo Robotics a different perspective on the challenges around tech adoption. Contrary to popular belief, Indian farmers are eager for new technologies that can improve their business in the shortest time span. Farmer adoption of any new product is ultimately linked directly to ease of use and proof of financial benefits.
The knapsack sprayer is the go-to tool for chemical pest/disease management on Indian farms. This manual device is wasteful as it does not provide farmers with information about how much product is required with suboptimal droplet size leading to reduced product efficacy. Farmers usually assign a ballpark quantity of pesticide per acre of land, and the farmhand blanket sprays all of it.
So how did Niqo Robotics win the farmers over? During the demonstrations, the field team filled the same quantity in the tank as assigned to the knapsack sprayer, usually about 200 liters per acre. The team then asked the farmers to walk behind the machine and check the leaves to see if it sprayed all target areas. After spraying crops on one acre of land, when they opened the tank to check the deployment, the machine sprayed only half the quantity without missing a single plant. On average, farmers usually spend between INR 1000 to INR 2400 on pesticides per acre. Crops are sprayed multiple times throughout the season. For example, cotton needs 5–6 rounds of pesticide application, and for chili, it can go as high as 17 times. Niqo’s technology proved to farmers that they can save upwards of 50% of expenditure on pesticides and more if they get the timing right (Eg: early-stage spraying in cotton crops can save farmers more than 60% in pesticide expense.)
The future is automated.
The future of agriculture is a combination of machine learning software and frugal hardware, helping farmers move from farm-level decision-making to plant-level decision-making. India has natural resource scarcity looming in the future, and innovations in precision agritech are crucial for optimal usage. Niqo Robotics will soon offer affordable AI-based solutions for major farming activities, such as sowing, spraying, weeding, and harvesting, to reduce cultivation costs and improve crop yields. The startup is gearing up for the commercial launch of its sprayer fleet in May, ushering in a new era in Indian agriculture.