Tauranga ag-tech startup Robotics Plus - a maker of automation systems to address labour shortages in horticulture and forestry - has revealed a US$8m ($12m) investment from Yamaha.

The Japanese giant has now put in a total of US$10m, including an earlier investment in May. An October 31 Companies Office update says Yamaha now has a 15 per cent holding in Robotics Plus.

The balance of shares are held by Robotics Plus's co-founders, industrial automation PhD Alistair Scarfe (its CTO) and ag-tech entrepreneur and Maori Economic Advisory board member Steve Saunders, who serves as chairman.

Saunders says the new funds will be used for Robotics Plus' UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) and a forestry project still under wraps, as well as pushing its apple-packer, which is already in the market. He's also in the process of setting up a US subsidiary.


The startup follows in the footsteps of Kiwi sorting automating company Compac, sold to Norway's Tomra Systems in a $70m+ deal in 2016, though Saunders says it has a different focus as it concentrates on labour-saving automation and doesn't offer a full packing system. He says it's complementary to Compac's systems.

Its Japanese investment follows the award of a Growth Grant from Crown agency Callaghan Innovation in July, worth up to $5m a year in matching R&D funds from this year through to 2021 (when the Labour-led Government is sunsetting Growth Grants, which are being phased out as the new 12.5 per cent universal R&D tax break comes in).

Robotics Plus'
Robotics Plus' "Aporo" automated apple packer can help address labour-shortages, the company says. Photo / Supplied.

Saunders says his company currently has 28 staff plus four grad students and is growing.

In terms of financials, "We are an early-stage growth company heavily investing in R&D so our burn rate is slightly higher than revenue, but this will change next financial year," he says.

Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley CEO Hiro Saijo says: "We've invested in Robotics Plus to help us reach our goal to make agriculture more sustainable, healthy, and secure.

"To meet the significant and increasing agriculture demands, including agricultural labour shortage globally, we need to create sophisticated and precision robotics and automation technologies."

To accelerate the development of their next generation automation solutions, Robotics Plus will leverage Yamaha Motor's experience, knowledge and technologies in outdoor vehicles, factory automation, robotics, design for manufacturing and manufacturing.

Robotics Plus'
Robotics Plus' "unmanned ground vehicle." Photo / Supplied.

CEO of Robotics Plus Dr Matt Glenn, says: "We've developed a mutually beneficial commercial relationship with Yamaha. We can benefit from their specialist knowledge in precision automation, manufacturing and access to high-quality components to help us develop our technologies. Yamaha can benefit from working with Robotics Plus as a world-leading robotics and automation business focusing on the agricultural and horticultural markets.


"This will also create new opportunities to develop technologies in other markets, too."

In May, Robotics Plus' robotic Āporo apple packers were the first in a suite of technologies to be commercially launched.

The apple packer, which identifies and places apples in display trays, can safely handle up to 120 fruit per minute.

It is being marketed by Global Pac Technologies, a Jenkins Group (NZ/Australia) and Van Doren Sales (US) joint venture, and is already operating in packhouses in New Zealand and the USA.