Viewer Tech (纬尔科技), an agtech and robotics startup, has bagged tens of millions of yuan in an angel round early this year, led by XBotPark Capital and Lingyi Capital, Chinese tech media outlet 36kr reported today.
The proceeds will be spent on product R&D and iteration, commercial validation and talent recruitment.
Since its inception in April 2022, Shenzhen-headquartered Viewer Tech has focused on using robotics, computer vision, precision motion control and other cutting-edge technologies to revolutionize the way certain crops, in particular cotton, are grown and harvested.
Traditionally, cotton production has been fully mechanized except for the process of topping. This refers to the practice of removing the growig tips of cotton plants, mostly by hand, so as to stimulate their growth.
If allowed to grow only upward, a cotton plant will only grow flowers from the main stem, instead of on its branches.
Usually, in June to July every year, cotton cultivators will use tools or their thumbs to nip the tops of cotton stalks, so as to make nutrition flow back to other parts of the plants and increase the yield as a result.
One human grower can only work 5 mu, or 0.33 hectare, of cotton fields a day. As such, extra labor is often brought in from neighboring provinces and even countries in peak seasons to cultivate some 48 million mu of cotton fields in China.
Amid a labor shortage and rising labor costs, which are expected to reach 70 yuan (US$9.84) per mu, many cotton growers are looking to agtech and robotics to automate their production.
That’s where Viewer Tech comes in. In response to challenges faced by cotton farmers, the startup has rolled out a cotton topping robot that combines 3D reconstruction in binocular stereo vision, AI algorithms and precision operational techniques.
By replacing human labor in the process of cotton topping, Viewer Tech claims to achieve cost savings of almost 90%.
Photos courtesy of Viewer Tech
Specifically, its self-developed 3D reconstruction in binocular stereo vision enables cost-efficient positioning of the cotton tops in need of pruning.
The startup has built a massive database comprising millions of data sets, covering different strands of cotton and modes of pruning. It uses AI algorithms to identify the tops of each cotton stalk, with an accuracy of over 99%, it says.
And then the robot will plan its own trail of movement and guide a robotic arm to remove the top of every cotton plant.
According to Liu Zheng, founder and CEO of Viewer Tech, the topping robot is only a preview of “more to come.” However, the technical capabilities and experience acquired through the cotton pinching robot are a “commanding height” in precision agricultural machinery.
In the future, the company will adopt modular technologies to come up with more precision agricultural robots to be deployed to scenarios demanding high levels of operational accuracy.
“Currently, agricultural machinery giants worldwide are also going through a smart transition, and this presents a historic opportunity for Chinese manufacturers to overtake them,” said Liu. “The core competitiveness of agricultural machinery will be precision operational capacity.