Meraque Unveils RACE, Malaysia’s First Plantation Autonomous Ground Vehicle (AGV)

Meraque Services Sdn Bhd (Meraque), a Malaysian innovative solution company that ranked 19th on the Drone Industry Insights Top Global Drone company list in 2020, has unveiled the first ever Malaysian Autonomous Ground Vehicle (AGV). The AGV has been named RACE, an acronym for Robotic Agro in Complex Environment.

RACE was developed to reduce reliance on manpower and improve fertilizer spraying consistency in oil palm plantation fields. With a high-power computing module in the brain, RACE is able to navigate its way autonomously between plants, analyse surroundings for decision-making and routing as well as set boundaries using high-precision location points.

The unveiling was officiated by YB Datuk Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, on the third day of the Malaysia International Agricommodity Expo & Summit (MIACES), at Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC) Kuala Lumpur.

YB Datuk Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, said: “New innovations such as Meraque’s RACE will help accelerate Malaysia’s drive to be on the agro commodity global map and fortify Malaysia’s standing as the leading producer of agro commodity products internationally. It is a testament that our home-grown brands are more than capable of producing world-class solutions that have the propensity to solve real-world challenges plaguing the agro-industry.”

“I congratulate them on their new development. Meraque is helping to lay the foundation of the future of Malaysia’s agro commodity industry, and I am excited to see how they will further help to complement the industry. I do hope more companies follow in their footsteps and emulate their push to create bold and innovative solutions to game change the industry,” Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin added.

In 2020, Meraque developed the first Malaysian Hybrid Spraying Drone to spot spray fertilizers and pesticides in crops to circumvent diseases in plantations. Meraque’s success sparked the idea for a locally developed AGV explicitly built to fit the needs of the local oil palm plantations, providing a solution to labour shortages, fluctuating yield, and high costs.

RACE comes embedded with a load capacity of 150L (equivalent to 150kg) for its small-scale prototype, which is suited for strip spraying. In contrast, the full-scale prototype is equipped with over 500L of load capacity to support both strip spraying and manuring activities. RACE can be integrated with other AGVs through its swarm technology and can navigate its swarm to complete projects expeditiously with it being carried out in phases.

Phase one of the project covers the AGV navigation spraying system in a complex environment such as the oil palm plantation to collect data and analyse patterns for AI training. Phase two will see the configuration of the high payload capacity and manuring activities. The final phase is where the deployment of the swarm happens after integration with the swarm technology.

Chief Executive Officer of Meraque, Md Razalee Ismail shared that in the spirit of Malaysia’s push to promote the nation as an international hub for agri commodity activities, Meraque’s efforts are all channelled at seeding the future of agriculture not just for Malaysia but across the globe through “Buatan Malaysia” innovations. “With Meraque’s plantation AGVs that were built by infusing agricultural robotics with artificial intelligence, we hope to build a better tomorrow for the agricultural sector- helping more plantations in improving efficiencies, preserving yields, coping with labour costs and shortages, mitigating capricious weather, increasing production and maximizing profits, all while ensuring sustainable practices,” Razalee added.

Today, Meraque holds the largest market share for drone spraying services in Malaysia. Meraque will be looking at training and hiring at least 500 local talents by the end of 2023 to meet the growing demand of the palm oil plantation sector as well as other large agricultural lands such as durian, rubber, coconut, paddy field, and pineapple.

Earlier last week, Meraque announced its partnership with Malaysia Debt Ventures Berhad (MDV), a subsidiary of the Minister of Finance (Incorporated) [MOF (Inc)] and an agency under the purview of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI), to facilitate the growth of Meraque’s operations and expansion in Malaysia and the ASEAN region, with a key focus on the agriculture, plantation, infrastructure and telecommunication sector, through MDV’s specialised financing facility.

The drone technology industry has captured a steadily rising audience, with the global drone market forecasted to achieve US$41.3 billion in 2026 according to the Drone Market Report 2021-2026. A recent study by the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology & Innovation (MRANTI) revealed that the Malaysian drone economy is expected to contribute RM50 billion to the GDP and create 100,000 job opportunities by 2030.