2017-11-29

Robot versus Round-Up

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Teric Greenan helps operate a small farming cooperative in Barss Corner and is working to develop a robot that provides an organic option to herbicides.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Teric Greenan and his team at Nexus Robotics were granted $25,000 through Innovocorp to develop a robot that provides an organic option to herbicides.</p>

Managing a one-acre vegetable operation called Abundance Cooperative in Barss Corner, Teric Greenan is a small farmer with a big mission.

"I just want to work towards making life better for other farmers," he told LighthouseNOW.

And he hopes to do that by making farming more profitable.

Greenan's company, Nexus Robotics, which includes business partners Jad Tawil and Thomas Trappenberg, has been granted a $25,000 Spark award from Innovocorp to help them develop a machine that will mechanize one of agriculture's most labour-intensive aspects - weeding.

"I don't really feel right now like farmers earn the money that they deserve. I feel, for the amount of effort that the farmers in our communities put in, they should be getting paid a lot more than they currently are," says Greenan.

He adds: "I think that robots are going to be an essential component of making farming profitable in the future."

A former electrical engineering student at St. Francis Xavier University, Greenan has attracted a team of computer engineers from Dalhousie University, including Trappenberg, a professor specializing in computational neuroscience and machine learning.

Together, they hope to develop an agricultural robot, similar to a domestic vacuum robot, to work its way through a farmer's field dispensing of weeds.

"You can program which beds you want to weed, which part of the field. It goes and does it. You can go do other things," explained Greenan.

The group is hoping the unit, which provides an organic means of weeding vegetables, will be efficient enough to make it appealing to organic and conventional farmers alike.

"If you're growing vegetables - so anything that isn't a cash crop - that hasn't been genetically engineered to be Round-Up resistant, you can't spray any herbicide on your crop or it will kill your crop. So people that grow vegetables don't really have the luxury of just spraying herbicide...you need to be much more accurate. And doing that is a lot more labor-intensive," he explained.

Nexus is hoping to have a prototype ready by March or April.

Testing of the units will take place at Abundance Cooperative, which Greenan operates in conjunction with his partners in that venture, Mykal Koloff and Mareena Thompson.

Nexus has not yet determined where the units would be manufactured en mass or what the retail cost would be, but currently the figure under consideration is in the range of $30,000 to $80,000, according to Greenan.

The Spark award is in addition to other grants Nexus team members have been given, including $50,000 through Innovocorp's Early Stage Commercialization Fund and $20,000 through the National Research Council's youth employment program.

Established in 1995 and based in Halifax, Innovacorp is Nova Scotia's corporation operating as an early stage venture capital organization.

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