Innovation and great technological advances are so often the result of partnerships formed from like minded and passionate parties joining to pursue a shared goal. This is certainly the case for a recent Geelong partnership struck between an education institution, local public companies willing to take a chance, and the drive and innovation of the founders of a new private enterprise.
In early 2019 four undergraduate engineering students from Deakin University looked to capitalise on their shared passion for making a meaningful impact on the world. Having all come from farming backgrounds or undertaken projects previously within the agricultural space whilst studying, Richard Athey, Ryan Veale, Darcy Baranowski and Rhys Bischof joined together and founded STRUT.
STRUT is a start-up that aims to take AgTech from a new, underutilised technology to something that is simple and effective to adopt.
Our booming population and increasingly difficult climate conditions have created a global concern around food security. Key to solving this challenge now and into the future will be the growing agricultural technology (AgTech) field.
STRUT’s goal is to empower farmers and growers with data, allowing them to achieve their yields more efficiently and effectively in conditions that have become the new normal.
Co-Founder Richard Athey believes strongly in the importance of AgTech, saying “Technology has the capacity to ensure that food production remains a stable and profitable industry, but currently, the technology is often too difficult and complex for businesses to adopt at scale. We have created a system that is simple and effective; it can be used by any business to streamline their operation and manage their resources.”
STRUT’s main agricultural product has two main components: the hardware, which enables the collection of data in the field and the software, which is accessed via a customisable dashboard.
The Hardware – Sensor Nodes
These sensor nodes can be installed across farms, collecting data on air temperature, air humidity, soil temperature, soil moisture and sunlight. Designed to be rugged and durable, these sensors last up to 10 years in the field.
The Software – Dashboard
Data collected from the sensor nodes is then sent to the STRUT cloud using a long-range wireless technology called LoRaWAN. This allows growers to connect up to 1000 devices to their networks at ranges of 10km, supporting properties of all sizes. The dashboard makes interpreting the collected data easy, allowing growers to see different correlations and anomalies. It can also notify users of critical events, generate reports, access analytics and export their data.
STRUT’s rapid development has been aided through various partnerships, with Deakin University playing an instrumental role. STRUT was part of the SPARK Deakin 2019 Startup Accelerator Program, being one of the 10 teams out of 78 applicants accepted and are currently supported by the ManuFutures Export Acceleration Program at the University’s Waurn Ponds campus.
STRUT’s partnership with Deakin has been invaluable to their development, providing support in the form of funding, mentorship, a working space, skills development and legal support, provides all the necessary tools they require to succeed.
STRUT has also been able to partner with the City of Greater Geelong, who will be trialling six beta versions of their sensor nodes in the Botanical gardens.
Like any tech start-up, the STRUT team and looking to scale their business with real-world users, testing and commercialising their product with use in the field. This has been quickly achieved with strong private sector interest from some relevant local players such as Cleantech Innovation and City of Greater Geelong.
The Sharp Group is another local business that has funded a trial program of STRUT’s systems on their vineyard at Leura Park Estate. Local commercial olive grove Boundary Bend Limited has also been involved in a similar trial.
“The trials will allow us to stress-test our system and assess the benefits it provides customers,” reveals Richard. “We’re really excited about this program because it allows us to work side-by-side with some great producers in the Geelong region.”
STRUT have recently developed a further partnership with Boomaroo. Despite not being able to take part in a similar trial to Cleantech and the Geelong City Council, Boomaroo were enthusiastic to work with STRUT and invited the team to tour their Lara operations.
“We knew Boomaroo had a reputation for being innovative, but were blown away when we saw just how much innovation has taken place over the years. As engineers, it was quite exciting for us to see!” says Richard.
With the current product prototype developed for field applications such as those environments found at Boundary Bend Limited and Leura Park Estate, the two organisations are now working together to adapt and apply the technology to the context of a commercial vegetable seedlings and greenlife nursery. The STRUT team is currently working to provide Boomaroo a custom solution that will fit the need of their growing environments.
As AgTech continues to grow, Richard believes those who take the lead of organisations like Boomaroo, Cleantech and the Geelong City Council, will get the early benefits.
“Businesses, such as Boomaroo, who are willing to give the technology a chance, are key to progressing the future of AgTech. Early adoption by pioneering companies will prove the benefit that technology and innovation can bring.”
For farmers and growers, Richard wants them to know that starting with AgTech doesn’t need to be complicated.
“We are always looking to work with more innovative producers. The great thing is that with our system, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use it; it just works.”