In the agricultural heartlands of India, traditional farming practices often involve labor-intensive sowing, irrigation, and the widespread manual spraying of pesticides. This not only poses health hazards to farmers but also contributes to soil pollution. Furthermore, it results in high labor costs that eat into the farmers’ earnings. To address these challenges, Bengaluru-based startup Niqo Robotics is leveraging robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to make agriculture more efficient and cost-effective for farmers.
A Vision of Sustainable Farming
Founded in 2015 by Jaisimha Rao, Niqo Robotics aims to develop accessible and reliable robots for sustainable, long-term farming. Jaisimha, who completed his education in the United States, returned to India in pursuit of entrepreneurship after gaining experience in the corporate world. His journey to revolutionize agriculture began when he visited a coffee plantation on the outskirts of Bengaluru. There, he discovered that conventional farming practices in India relied heavily on blanket spraying of pesticides, resulting in unnecessary chemical seepage into the soil.
From Idea to Innovation
Recognizing the need for precision agriculture, Jaisimha started Niqo Robotics in 2015. The company initially employed drones to capture images of pest-infected sections of farms and provided farmers with analytical reports. However, farmers did not find these reports compelling enough to pay for. This led Jaisimha to develop land-based robots that could not only analyze farm activities but also take action.
Last year, Niqo Robotics introduced AI-based robots for trials in Maharashtra’s Akola district, targeting cotton farmers. These robots use a three-step process: see, select, and spray. Equipped with day and night-vision cameras, the robots identify plants, differentiate them from soil, and deliver precise doses of pesticides directly to the plants. By transitioning from blanket spraying to targeted pesticide application, farmers can save up to 60% on pesticide costs.
Changing Farmers’ Lives
To introduce farmers to the benefits of robot sprayers, Niqo Robotics conducted demonstrations in Akola villages in June 2022. Farmers were initially skeptical, but witnessing the robots in action convinced them of their potential. Farmers now lease the robots from Niqo Robotics for spraying, paying approximately ₹350 per acre. This approach has been successful, with hundreds of farmers in Karnataka and Maharashtra adopting the technology.
Yogesh Raut, a farmer from Maharashtra, initially had reservations but was impressed with the results after trying the robot sprayer. He noted significant savings in both time and costs compared to manual spraying.
Scaling Up and Future Goals
While the technology is currently designed for crops like cotton and chillies, Niqo Robotics aims to expand its capabilities to cover more crops. Challenges remain in educating farmers about the benefits of selective spraying versus traditional methods. However, the company has already sprayed over 1 lakh acres of farmland this year and plans to scale its technology to more regions and crops.
Jaisimha Rao is proud of the impact his technology is having on Indian agriculture, addressing issues like labor shortages and resource efficiency. He is dedicated to continuing his work in the sector, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with robotics and automation, and making a meaningful contribution to his country.
Niqo Robotics, led by Jaisimha Rao, is revolutionizing Indian agriculture by using AI-powered robots to provide precision spraying of pesticides. This innovative approach not only improves farmers’ efficiency but also reduces costs and environmental impact.