Luc Labbé – Nexus Robotics – Ep 38

Luc Labbé, CEO at Nexus Robotics

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” we’re joined by Luc Labbé from Nexus Robotics, who we’ll be talking to about how their autonomous weeding robots are a solution to crop protection and labour shortages in the field.



[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hi there, and welcome to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork. The PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I’m joined by Luc Labbé from Nexus Robotics, who I’ll be talking to about how their autonomous weeding robots are a solution to crop protection and labour shortages in the field.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Well, good morning, Luc. How are you?

[00:00:25] Luc Labbé: I’m very good, very uh, happy to be on the podcast here.


[00:00:29] Mitchell Denton: Oh, we’re happy to have you. Before we get into it though, I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do, and maybe a fun fact about yourself?

[00:00:38] Luc Labbé: A lot of fun facts. I’m not sure I want to tell them all, but, uh, I’m, uh, I’m an agronomist. You know, I just studied agronomy, but I basically had businesses all my life, uh, been around trading grains for food and got into the non-dairy sector and a few years back did like a whole 180 degree toward AgTech innovations and technology, which I, I really enjoy. 

It’s, it’s like a, a second career and I’m surrounded with like a number of good people that know what they’re doing. So it’s, it’s very fun to basically drive those people and structure the company here. Fun fact, I’d say I like to golf. 

 I try to golf all my life and I think that I won’t have enough, days and years to master that game at all. So, I don’t know if it’s funny, but to me, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not.

[00:01:32] Mitchell Denton: I’m hopeless at golf. So you’re, you’re, you’re alone in that one. But, um, before we get stuck on golf talk, could you tell us a little bit more about the history of Nexus Robotics and how your innovative technology works?

[00:01:46] Luc Labbé: Sure, sure. Um, basically Nexus was, uh, the idea comes from three young entrepreneur out of Nova Scotia, Canada on the East coast. Coming out of school, and one of them actually, uh, was running an organic vegetable farms and really got tired of picking weeds. 

So, basically thought for himself, ” We should have a robot to pick weeds”. And, uh, basically teamed up with two of his friends. One is a software engineer, one is a mechanical engineer. And he started Nexus Robotic. They picked a technology that was really complicated. They felt that we should basically mimic the humans and therefore they decided to go with articulated arms to precisely pick the weeds as opposed to any other means. So that’s how, that’s how it started. And, uh, I joined later, we moved everything to Montreal and here we are now.

[00:02:38] Mitchell Denton: Fantastic. So then what would you say separates your technology from other forms of weeding tech on the market?

[00:02:45] Luc Labbé: Well, we, we have a technology that is very different from anything else that’s on the market. The other technologies are, are more, I would say, destructive. You know, you drag a hoe around the plant and you basically move around everything that you encounter, or you basically use herbicides, which you know, is, is good if you say you are reduced the number of herbicides, but, but you still use herbicides.

Others use laser. Very precise, very slow, very expensive. So, we’re different, because we’re non-destructive, we’re organic, and we basically are so precise that we can remove those weeds that are very close to the crop and we remove the weeds with its root system so it never regrows.

So I think that’s how, that’s how we separate ourselves from the pack.

[00:03:33] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, great. So currently Nexus has been rolling out the second generation of field robots. What improvements can we expect to see over the original field robots?

[00:03:44] Luc Labbé: Well, I, I guess we have to separate like the hardware to the software at this point in time on that question. You know, the, the hardware is the robot itself. It’s, you know, the wheels and the autonomy and everything else. That is our V3, which is the third iteration. 

And that is, uh, we like it. It’s, it’s, it’s commercial, it’s fast, it’s reliable, it’s, it’s rugged. We have six of those right now and ah, not much to expect out of the hardware, but the software is, is what we, you know, all the models that we use to move the arms around. And we’re constantly in evolution there . Where we, we basically change parts to go faster.

We gather more data, more images to be more precise, and that’s going to be a neverending, uh, work, because, you know, what we want to do is get the model to be as resilient as possible and be able to say, “Oh, I’m in the lettuce field now, so let’s pick around lettuce”. 

[00:04:46] Mitchell Denton: Hmm. 

[00:04:46] Luc Labbé: Like, right now, we need to have a model on lettuce. We have a model for each crop. We want to basically bring them all together eventually.

[00:04:53] Mitchell Denton: So then what would you say has been your team’s biggest challenge so far with your innovative product, and how did you overcome it?

[00:05:00] Luc Labbé: The biggest challenge technically is around the fact that we’re the only one that, while the robot moves, we pick the weeds. So, we basically identify and locate the weed at a certain spot, and then by the time everything is computed, the robot has moved. So therefore the, the weed is no longer at the same place.

So basically be able to keep the precision and go and pick the weed exactly where it is now, as opposed to two seconds ago. Uh, you know, required a lot of testing and a lot of back and forth, and the team has been putting a lot of hours, but tremendous work around that, to a point where, you know, we master it now.

[00:05:40] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Fantastic. So then what’s the biggest discovery you’ve uncovered while working in the AgTech industry?

[00:05:48] Luc Labbé: Well, I, I, I don’t think it’s a discovery, but you know, there’s the farmers have so many needs and so many different needs. We work towards weeding right now, but we quickly realised that this is our entry to market because the farmer’s have needs for many different things.

Uh, they, they, they want to know when, when they will be ready to harvest, they want to know what their yields will be, they want to know, ” is my soil okay? Do I have insects?” 

And they can get answers to all of that through different means. But what we aim to do is to basically put everything under the same roof under our robot.

[00:06:25] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Okay. So then outside of the issue of labour shortages in the field that Nexus is directly addressing, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points in the Ag industry?

[00:06:38] Luc Labbé: You know, to be able to have the data they have to talk to them. Farmers on farm, there’s, you know, everybody has a lot of data, but, you know, if it’s not crunched properly, it basically means nothing. You know, like I would say it’s like, a bunch of zeros and ones, you know, to the extent where, you know, it’s okay, I have all the data, I don’t know what to do with it.

And our, our goal is to basically be able to crunch that for them and make sure that we have an interface that basically gives them all the data that we can get from their farm and that, and to do that, like live right now and crunch it. Not, they don’t need the data from two weeks ago, they need the data from now.

[00:07:19] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. Okay then, so then has the Covid pandemic, for better or worse, had any effect on your day-to-day operations?

[00:07:27] Luc Labbé: We were pre-commercial over Covid, so I guess, yeah, I have to say yes honestly because, uh, you know, I couldn’t have the team around the robot all the time, although, It was possible to work remotely. I would say that probably that the meetings were not as productive. I guess the biggest challenge was that, you know, we, we need the growers to, to work, uh, with us and tell us what they need.

So, In that time span when travel was difficult, where we were not allowed to go to the US or vice versa, but it was not even planes, uh, that kind of slowed us down to basically talk to them and, you know, get that pulse on what we were doing and, you know, were we heading in the right direction. So I’d, I’d say it, it did touch us and slowed back the design and the work of what we were doing. It’s not been the end of the world, but, uh, you know, it was a bit of a challenge.

[00:08:22] Mitchell Denton: Okay. Okay. You, you mentioned data collection earlier. I was just wondering when it comes to food loss and sustainable farming, what are some of the things your team are researching the most right now?

[00:08:35] Luc Labbé: Well, we want to make sure that, um, I mean, as I said earlier, weeding is our first goal, but then after that it’s like, helping the farmers to have better information down the road, down the chain, and then link the farm to the distributor and to the plant that will basically process the processor.

And, and that’s why we’re working very hard at being able to better predict harvest date, harvest yield, and be able to give that to the farmers so they can have a better idea of what they’re going to deliver to the processor and when. 

So in this case, they can maximise their yield, they can maximise their return, and also minimise, uh, just, you know, example on lettuce, if you wait too long, the lettuce is no longer palatable, you know. So, uh, this is all information that they can always get with a scout and be in their fields, but, uh, they would really like to have it right on their iPad or telephone.

[00:09:38] Mitchell Denton: Okay then. So is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

[00:09:46] Luc Labbé: Well, I, definitely the laser. Uh, I mean, I, it’s, you know, that that technology does exist. Uh, it exists as is. I think that there’s very high potential for laser and, and I shouldn’t say that because you know, it’s a competition. But I think that to, to, to work something like our technology in conjunction with, with lasers. 

Because, lasers are good when the, when the, when the weeds are very, very, very small.

As soon as the weeds get a little bit bigger, the lasers don’t work, you know, they just stunt them and it’s, it’s no good. So, so to, to have both technologies working in tandem is interesting because then you take care of all the small ones and then the articulated arms can take care of the bigger one.

But then in tandem you can go twice, twice as fast or three times faster than, than our technology or that technology alone. So, so it’s, it’s interesting and, uh, I don’t know where that, where, you know, what’s going to happen in the future for that, but we’re, we’re certainly looking at it.

[00:10:53] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, wow, I’ve, I’ve never really, uh, thought of the concept of the lasers kind of being obsolete on bigger weeds. That wouldn’t be any form of like a fire hazard, would it? I’m not sure.

[00:11:05] Luc Labbé: While you’re not talking to a laser expert in terms of, uh, You know, I’m not an expert, but you know, lasers are lasers. Uh, I put it that way. I mean, a laser can ricochet on, uh, on a little piece of glass and hit someone. Yes, I think there’s, I think there’s a, a risk there. Um, How high is that risk? It’s tough for me to say, to be honest with you.

There’s different types of lasers also, currently lasers that are used in the Ag sector or CO2 lasers, which basically what happens is that when the laser hits something, it basically make the humidity, the water boil. So that’s how they kill the weeds. But, um, there are different other types of laser and we’re definitely looking at other types of laser right now. 

[00:11:51] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Okay. Well I’ll keep an eye out for that. What’s one thing you wish you had known when you began your career in developing autonomous weeding tech?

[00:11:59] Luc Labbé: I think I would have tried to make things happen faster and in parallel, that would’ve probably required at the beginning a little bit more funding for the company. Um, you know, I I, I got into a point where there was a funding specific, uh, funding. And I, in retrospect I would’ve probably tried to double that so that at the beginning we could have gone faster to the market because there’s a window of opportunity right now in the AgTech market and um, we have to jump in there and that’s what we’re doing. But we had to battle fast lately to basically be ready on time.

[00:12:43] Mitchell Denton: Sure, sure. I’m assuming funding would’ve allowed for more time in the field where obviously a lot of the research and development needs to take place. So that, that makes sense. 

[00:12:54] Luc Labbé: Yes. More, More, more, manpower.

[00:12:56] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. We are coming to a close Luc, but before we do, I just wanted to ask, what is the main point you really want the listeners to take away from this episode?

[00:13:07] Luc Labbé: Well, I, I think we’re still not well known at Nexus Robotics. Um, we’ve been under the radar and it was my personal decision to go under the radar until we’re ready. Uh, we, we are ready right now. We’re going commercial this summer, so I’d like the auditors to, you know, look out for us and look for the, the Nexus, uh, robot we’re finalists for Robot of the Year. 

And, uh, for us, 2023 is the year where we’re entering the market and, you know, hopefully, uh, going through podcasts like that would, would, would like to basically, uh, sow the seeds of, there’s a new technology in and it’s, it’s a good technology. It’s one of the best.

[00:13:50] Mitchell Denton: Finalist Robot of the Year, that’s exciting news. That’s fantastic. 

[00:13:53] Luc Labbé: It is Actually. Yeah, it came kind of a last minute.

[00:13:57] Mitchell Denton: Well, I’ll keep an eye out for the launch and I look forward to seeing what’s ahead for Nexus. That’s all for today’s episode. Let’s talk farm to fork. Thanks for listening, and thank you, Luc for joining me today. 

[00:14:09] Luc Labbé: It’s been a pleasure. 

[00:14:10] Mitchell Denton: If you’d like to know more about Luc and Nexus Robotics, check out the link in the description of this episode. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends.

Until next time, you’ve been listening to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork, a Post Harvest podcast.


Related Episodes

Related Articles