This autumn Kotaro Ando, a forty year-old farmer from Tara Town, Saga City (Japan) became the first customer to lease an asparagus picking robot from local agricultural high-tech startup Inaho Co. Ltd. Founded in 2017 and located in the coastal town of Kamakura, Inaho develops robots for agricultural and non-agricultural use. In January 2019, the company opened an office in Kashima (about 110 km from Tokyo) to market their autonomous robot to asparagus and cucumber farmers in Saga City and its surrounding areas. Kotaro Ando was one of these lucky asparagus farmers.
Ando is extremely happy with the robot so far. “It’s so helpful.” he told reporters.” – “Harvesting accounts for 50% to 60% of all the time we spend on farm work. The robot gives us time we can divert to sales promotion and experiments to improve the quality of our products.” Japan faces the same difficulties as other nations with regard to a shortage of agricultural land and an ageing labor force. Toshiyuki Hideshima, Mayor of Saga City added: “Saga has a thriving horticultural industry including asparagus, but farmers are aging. As the population ages, the physical burden of farming increases, and many people stop farming. We expect this business [Inaho] to solve the labor shortage of such agriculture.”
According to Inaho’s website, this is the first time that an autonomous harvester robot has hit the market in Japan. The company has set a goal of producing hundreds of robots in 2020 and approximately 10,000 in 2022. Ambitious plans indeed! Since startup, the company won the Best Prize & PR TIMES Award at the FUJITSU Accelerator Program Pitch Contest, February, 2019.
Robotics as a Service (RaaS)
Inaho works on a Robotics as a Service (RaaS) business model basis, this means that the leasing farmer only pays a percentage of the harvest profit to use the machine (in this case 15%). Everything else, including maintenance and upkeep costs, is covered by the company who are able to use the support experience to improve the machine’s efficiency and durability. To ensure prompt maintenance response times, Inaho only targets farmers within a 30-minute car drive of its Kashima office.
Automatic vegetable harvesting robots
This electric powered robot uses its infrared sensor to find ripe asparagus before carefully harvesting the stalks, ready and whole. A single battery charge lasts ten hours. The harvester can work through the night – ten hours straight, placing freshly picked asparagus into a basket until full when it shoots an SMS message to the farmer:
“All done. The basket is full”
For now the company deals only with asparagus harvesting, but its website announces, “we are aiming to respond to cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes”. Inaho also plans to open another 25 offices near its company’s base to help with expansion.