May 13, 2022

WGCIT Resident: Naïo Technologies Offering New Robotic Weeders to U.S. Ag

Naïo Technologies, a French company specializing in autonomous robots for agriculture, has just celebrated its 10th anniversary with 300 robots in operation worldwide, 80 people employed across the globe and more than 60,000 hours of operations under its belt.

The company has been operating in California since 2019 and now has four robot models in operation with its newest iteration, the Ted Vineyard Robot, currently being introduced to grape growers. This newest robot was formerly presented at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, which bills itself as “the most influential tech event in the world.”

Yet Chief Operation Officer Ingrid Sarlandie, one of 14 California-based employees, said the company is still a start-up. “I define a ‘start-up’ as a highly innovative company trying to disrupt an industry to solve a challenge that hasn’t been solved, with a solution that is not obvious.”

Though Naïo Technologies has proven its concept, Sarlandie said there is still a lot of work to be done. “We are the leaders in the space, but we now need to scale.” She added that work on the robotic machines is an on-going effort with its first U.S. introduction, Dino, having been replaced by a better autonomous machines, the Orio.

The company was launched in France in 2012 by a pair of scientists that Sarlandie describes as “two rock stars in robotics.” The company now has 280 units in operation in Europe. While Europe has been an excellent market, Sarlandie said the potential U.S. market, led by California’s growers, is “huge.” She added: “The market is ready. We need early adopters and innovators.”

Though Naïo Technologies developed the autonomous robots as a solution to reduce pesticide use and the need for labor, Sarlandie said the concept for these robotic machines is to eventually be used for many in-field cultural practices such as thinning, spraying and even harvesting. Weeding is the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

Naïo Technologies began its quest offering weeding as a service that the company is providing at a cost-saving rate. But the Naïo COO said the robotic equipment is also for sale. She added that there are many very large agricultural operations in California that have indicated their preference is to own the machine rather than purchase the service. In the United States, Naïo Technologies is working through John Deere and its network of dealers to sell and service the equipment. Sarlandie said machines ordered now should be delivered by the end of the year.

Though the mechanical equipment uses robotic technology, Sarlandie assures they are not complicated. In fact, she has been trained to service the equipment and she indicated a competent mechanic can do the same.

With rising costs in virtually all areas—fuel, labor, inputs—Naïo Technologies and its COO believe the all-electric autonomous ag robots are a “no brainer.” Sarlandie said there is great need in wine-growing regions for Ted. She notes that all the robotic units check many boxes for a better world and a more profitable ag enterprise.

In a company fact sheet, Julien Laffont, Strategy and Development Manager at Naïo Technologies, said: “In France, Ted is already at work for big brands such as Hennessy and Grands Chais de France. We have acquired a great deal of expertise on American soil with Dino: now that we have eight robots in service and over 5,000 hectares weeded, it is time for Naïo to expand its presence in the United States on the wine-growing market with Ted, but also with our historical robot Oz which is about to become available throughout the United States thanks to a distribution network (John Deere) that is currently being deployed.”

Sarlandie and her U.S. team are headquartered in Salinas at the Naio Technologies Center and Naïo has a desk at the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology.