It’s a scene that isn’t as sci-fi as it sounds. Between two tasks in his fields, a cereal farmer from Bièvre, for example in Isère, places a robot at the corner of a plot and walks away, letting the robot inspect the crop. He will recover the data in a few hours and will thus be able to know if his field is attacked, by what and if necessary, he will only treat where necessary. This scene is made possible by the invention of a young company from Isère based in Crolles: the SentiV robot. Meeting with one of the two co-founders, Guillemin Raymond.
France Bleu Isère: Guillemin Raymond, you are the designer of a robot that inspects crops. Can we know a little more about the car itself?
Guillemin Raymond: So it’s a 100% autonomous robot, which is very light, which weighs fifteen kilos, which actually detects diseases, pests and weeds on cereal-type crops, for the time being. So really the idea of this robot is not to impact crops with spoked wheels that really come to override the crops and exam level finally there are two cameras that come to take over so between these wheels , and there is also an optional small camera that can see under the foliage of the plant and which is located on the back of the robot. This allows you to really see as close as possible to the vegetation, for example the diseases and pests hiding in it.
The farmer marks out a plot on a map and the robot carries out the orders?
Absolutely. Then the farmer, on our software, will define the contours of the crop and then define the accuracy of the robot. In fact, the distance that the robot will respect depends on the equipment it has but also on the time allotted to it. Once cultured, he will do his job 100% independently. He doesn’t necessarily need to look at it and at the end of his work, the robot will send an SMS to say “I have finished my work, come and get me”.
How did the idea of creating a robot to observe crops come about? Why agriculture?
With my partner, and another co-founder William Guitton, we were already immersed in this environment. It was also a subject of study for him and he saw the stakes of agricultural robotics a little, but also the expectations of farmers. Eventually he and I were already working as a “hobby,” on a robot that we didn’t necessarily know what it would be capable of. And we soon realized that there was the possibility of finally providing it to farmers to respond to these problems of variability of treatments on a crop, while the crop is currently treated in a very homogeneous way.
You spoke of the “expectations” of farmers. Do you find a respondent right among them in terms of marketing your robot? They are interested?
On this we are eagerly awaited! Between Eastern Europe and America, there are people who contact us. For the moment we are only working with the French to already validate the technical aspect of the robot, but also the intelligence of the robot so that it is really a solid robot and that we can deliver it to the market on a long-term basis.
You were at the recent CES in La Vegas, what did you get from it?
It was a great opportunity for us to showcase internationally and we had an extremely positive response. We also saw other possibilities to collaborate with other companies or on topics we hadn’t necessarily thought about. Of course, we don’t have to scatter too much either, but in any case there are great prospects for our company. The agricultural robotics market is already occupied by drones or satellites but here, with this robot, we go much more precisely as close as possible to the vegetation to see weeds in particular. This is really where we are most expected ultimately, on weeds, for example to detect thistle, ryegrass, this is where the greatest expectation is among farmers and the “big accounts”.
- The + information: Meropy should deliver its first sold, or more exactly rented, robot by spring, given that it is the marketing formula that has been chosen. The cost is approximately – it all depends on the options and the number of robots – 8,000 euros per year. It is especially profitable above 200 hectares and therefore rather, in the Isère, for groups of farmers. As for the solution to industrialize SentiV, currently “handcrafted” by the company’s 8 employees, it would be rather “fableless” in the mind of the founders, i.e. entrusted to an external partner.