News

IT Carlow based Aerial Agritech awarded Phase 1 SBIR funding

18/11/2020

IT Carlow spinout Aerial Agritech, a former participant in the institute’s New Frontiers programme, has been awarded Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) by the Marine Institute and Enterprise Ireland.

The SBIR challenge enables public bodies to fund research and drive innovation to address specific requirements not currently deliverable through the marketplace via robust engagement with technology rich companies and organisations.

Established in 2015 by Cian Gallagher, Aerial Agritech was among the first companies in Ireland to commercially use fixed wing drones with multispectral sensors for the purpose of analysing agriculture and forestry. Through the SBIR funding, Aerial Agritech will be tasked with assessing and improve our understanding of Ireland's coastal marine habitat and ecosystems. This challenge aims to produce accurate estimates of seaweed resource distribution and biomass through development and application of the latest technological innovations.

Aerial Agritech will use fixed wing drones with multispectral sensors for the purpose of analysing agriculture and forestry. Aerial Agritech, in association with IT Carlow, has a particular focus on bringing technology to industry operators. It will partner in this initiative with Blath na Mara (Aran Islands Seaweed) and Wild Irish Seaweed, which will provide key support in enabling the transition to seaweed resource assessment.

Conventional ground surveys to estimate seaweed biomass are time-consuming, expensive and sometimes dangerous due to inaccessible terrain. Recently however, the application of satellite and/or drone technologies with the use of hyperspectral and/or multispectral cameras has emerged as a potential method to accurately quantify species-specific seaweed biomass when supported by adequate ground truthing.

There is increasing demand, both nationally and internationally, for seaweed and seaweed-based products. Seaweed is now widely used within fertilizers, animal feed additives, hydrocolloids, human food, cosmetics and medicines, and seaweed-derived products are becoming increasingly popular in pharmacies, restaurants, and health stores. It is estimated that 32 countries actively harvest over 800,000 tonnes from wild stocks and natural beds annually. In Ireland, commercial interest in the sector is growing, and a balanced approach needs to evolve to support sustainable growth, enabling the local harvesters to continue to extract seaweed in a traditional manner, while providing an adequate quality resource to meet the needs of the larger scale companies and the potential international market.

Mick Gillooly, Director of Oceans, Climate and Information Services at the Marine Institute said, "With increasing awareness of the economic value of seaweed, mapping the extent of this resource is vital for sustainable management decisions. This is an exciting collaboration between industry, small business and research institutions, which will utilise the latest innovations and the expertise of Ireland's national seabed mapping programme INFOMAR."

Peadar Casey, Enterprise Development Manager, Institute of Technology, Carlow commented, “The SBIR initiative is an effective platform for entrepreneurial businesses such as Aerial AgriTech to bring innovation to natural resource industries. Aerial Agritech has been a participant on our Enterprise Ireland supported New Frontiers program while also taking advantage of Institute of Technology innovation support services”

Pictured are, from left: Cian Gallagher, founder of Aerial Agritech with data analyst Damir Akhmetshin