Electronic Products & Technology

AIS farms an electric autonomous robot

By Sohail Kamal, West Coast Correspondent   

Automation / Robotics Electronics Engineering agricultural agricultural autonomous autonomous electric electric nurseries nurseries vehicle vehicle

Riding the wave of receiving substantial funding support from the Federal Government, Burnaby-based Advanced Intelligent Systems (AIS) has set out to develop an autonomous electric vehicle that will solve several pain points for customers.

BigTop autonomous, four-wheeled robotic vehicle.

Netting $2.2 million grant from the Government of Canada through its Sustainable Development Technology Canada program, AIS describes the windfall as ‘non-diluted government financing’. Supporting the horticulture industry’s technological revolution, AIS’s goal is to have its electric vehicle replace diesel tractors in agricultural nurseries.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with AIS’s CEO, Afshin Doust, about the funding, how they qualified for it and why they love to do what they do.

Huge impact on carbon footprint

“We have 36 people on our team,” says Doust. “So a $2.2 million dollar grant is really big news. But, more than this being big news, the fact that the Canadian government is validating the direction we are taking with our product development is worth a whole lot more than just receiving the money.” The funding perhaps is based on the success of AIS’s current flagship product, BigTop, that they have started commercializing. Doust explains that the new product will be an autonomous electric vehicle that can tow carts and will replace fossil fuel burning diesel trucks in greenhouses. “Simply put, these electric vehicles in nurseries will have a huge impact on carbon footprint,” Doust beams proudly.


Bigtop is a four wheeled autonomous mobile robot that can lift objects in a greenhouse such as potted trees, transport them, and space them as required. It uses a set of sensors to observe its surrounding environment to autonomously make decisions about its tasks or pass the information to an operator. BigTop can operate independently or it can be controlled by an operator.

“AIS was started with a vision to create autonomous automation to tackle tasks that are hazardous for people to perform,” explains Doust.

The idea of creating affordable robots to support agricultural workers is a challenge to bring to fruition, so when asked what aided their success so far, Doust referenced their location and their advisory board.

“Vancouver is a great place to have a start-up. Access to talent is always challenging, but partnering with universities has created the opportunity for us to attract bright minds at an early stage in their career,” says Doust. “AIS enjoys the support of the industry and also a stellar advisory board. The executive team at AIS have decades of engineering and business experience.”

Autonomous robot is designed to specifically assist agricultural nursery employees.

Eliminates injury days per annum

As more robots begin to work alongside human labour, AIS will continue to develop products that support the industry’s work force, which is is facing a labor shortage. Hiring workers to perform the repetitive and labor intensive tasks necessary in nurseries and greenhouses is challenging, and these labourers are prone to experience repetitive stress injuries. AIS’s autonomous robots, with customizable software, provide solutions that are kind to worker’s backs.

“We (AIS) tackle automation of undesirable and dangerous tasks, which allows workers to do tasks that are not strenuous on their body hence avoiding injuries at work,” explains Doust. “For instance, BigTop, addresses moving pots, and eliminates the 18 days of injury per annum related to back injuries per worker.”

AIS also recently announced that they will work with a partner, AgriNomix, to create solutions for nurseries and greenhouses faced with labor intensive tasks.

“We are very excited to partner with AgriNomix to provide a solution for nursery and greenhouse growers to make their operations more efficient and productive,” Doust notes. “AgriNomix is the most reputable and biggest distributor of automation in Horticulture in North America. We are very proud of our relationship with AgriNomix and often collaborate with them to find out their client’s biggest pain points to design suitable products for horticulture.”

AIS has many more products in its pipeline that will help automate labour intensive tasks well into the future. To learn more about how they are going to save backs and decrease greenhouse gases, visit www.ai-systems.ca.


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