Agritech start-up taps grant to develop robotic system for vertical farming operations

Singrow applied for a Productivity Solutions Grant in June 2021 as its own cashflow was not sufficient to support the project. PHOTO: SINGROW

SINGAPORE - Local agritech start-up Singrow has been working to build a robotic system for automatic harvesting and pollination in efforts to boost its vertical farming operations.

The company has launched several proprietary crop varieties - such as red and white strawberries, cherry tomatoes, komatsuna mustard vegetables and saffron - to date.

Last June, it applied for a Productivity Solutions Grant to boost its efforts to build the prototype for the robotic system, as its own cash flow was not sufficient to support the project, said founder and chief executive Bao Shengjie.

Prior to receiving the grant, the company spent nearly $100,000 on the automation project, he added.

Singrow's intention is to complement its plant biology solutions with automation, which is the reason for its collaborative efforts to design and build the robotic system.

"We foresee that, with continuous improvement and customisation, our automatic harvesting platform will not only be applicable to our own farm and our franchisee's farms... but also completely change the current vertical farming operation model," Dr Bao said.

The first phase of the robotic system development, which includes developing an algorithm to determine which strawberries are ready to be collected, has been completed. The firm is now working to customise the robotic arm further, he noted.

Singrow, a spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS), raised seed-round funding of $1.6 million from investors to build its first pilot indoor vertical farm in Bukit Merah in 2020.

The company has also invested $200,000 over three years in a co-innovation programme with NUS, aimed at creating new crop varieties for indoor and vertical farming conditions.

Dr Bao said the company is raising funds to scale further in Singapore and expand in the region.

It plans to build a commercial-scale farm in Singapore by the end of 2022, largely to grow strawberries for the local market, as well as propagate strawberry seedlings to supply to its franchisees.

Regionally, it aims to supply seedlings, develop technologies and help with farm design and construction for its franchisees abroad.

Singrow has an agreement with a franchisee in Batam, Indonesia and is in discussions with potential clients in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, Dr Bao added.

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