Njord Robotics is one of the 9 startups from NTNU that has received funding from The Research Council of Norway to develop their product this year. We have been lucky to talk to the team and get all details about their rapidly growing startup.
6AM: Tell us about your team and what you are currently doing.
NR: Our team consists of Henning (CTO), Marcus (COO), and Vidar (CEO). Each of us has an engineering degree (M.Sc.) from NTNU from different fields: cybernetics and robotics, marine technology, industrial economics, and entrepreneurship. Our startup has its origin in NTNU School of Entrepreneurship—a highly proficient and generative venture creation program at NTNU. We are currently making the leap into our own technology-based startup: Njord Robotics!
6AM: Tell us a few words about Njord Robotics. What problem are you solving?
NR: Njord Robotics develops autonomous underwater cleaning drones for land-based fish farming. In land-based farming, fish tanks must be cleaned regularly: During production, bacteria and biofouling accumulate on submerged surfaces, and sludge (comprised of mainly leftover feed and feces) may accumulate in creaks and corners in the tanks. Today, tanks are cleaned manually by facility personnel in between production cycles (i.e., batches of fish). This is not only a time-consuming, tedious, and HES-alarming process—it also results in operational downtime and of production delay. In simple terms: A fish farmer cannot cultivate fish in a tank that is empty due to the need for manual cleaning!
Our drones clean tanks continuously and proactively during production—while there is fish in the tanks. The drones are designed to keep bacteria, biofouling, and sludge at bay at all times. We envision a future where there is no need for manual cleaning—a future where tanks never get dirty, and where fish is cultivated in a clean and biologically safe environment. Fish farmers should not have to clean tanks manually as they do today—exerting themselves by spending days in huge tanks with pressure washers, hazardous chemicals, and uncomfortable protective gear. Lastly, in a world with increasing demand for healthy and nutritious food, fish tanks in farming facilities should not stand empty due to cleaning; this is a complete waste of resources: Fish tanks should be producing fish!
6AM: Do you remember how and when you got the idea for your product?
NR: Vidar has practical experience from the fish farming industry from working in both sea-based and land-based farms. He has cleaned a lot of tanks himself, and has personally seen and felt the need for our solution. The idea popped into our minds when we first saw autonomous net cleaning drones for sea-based net pens (those nets in the fiords that most people associate with fish farming); we thought: “Hey—somebody should do this for tanks on land, too!”.
6AM: What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur? What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
NR: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is the excitement: Building a company is incredibly complex, and—even though there is a range of well-shaped principles to follow—there is no exact recipe for success, simply because every company is different. When you’re building a company, you and your team are basically on your own: You have to figure things out by yourself, and try to minimize the risk of making bad—potentially detrimental—decisions.
6AM: Tell us a bit more about NTNU Discovery funding and the tests that you conducted? How did these tests help you improve your product?
NR: Being granted financial support from NTNU Discovery has been instrumental to our development so far. Their funding has enabled us to do rapid prototyping and conduct field testing with fish farmers. Through this testing, we have established a set of technical specifications and product criteria; additionally, we have learned more about fish farmers’ needs related to product-specific functionality, usability, biological safety, fish welfare, and farm logistics.
6AM: Have you launched an MVP or you are in the process?
NR: We have prototypes that we use for R&D purposes; however, we are still in the process of making our first fully-functional and operationally-reliable drone. This takes time, not only because we have to develop the unit itself, but because aspects of it must be tested individually in a real-world environment. We are, after all, developing a robotic solution that will operate alongside living fish; therefore, it is critical for us to ensure that fish welfare and biological safety are never compromised by our technology.
6AM: Congrats on Forny2020. How are you going to use the grant?
NR: Thanks! We really appreciate the financial support from The Research Council of Norway through Forny2020. The grant will mainly be used to accelerate our R&D. Hopefully, within a year, we’ll have some drones up and running; if so, it will be thanks to Forny2020 and NTNU Discovery.
6AM: Are there more achievements/grants that you have gotten in the past?
NR: In addition to grants from NTNU Discovery and The Research Council of Norway, we have received financial support from TrønderEnergi through “TrønderEnergi-bidraget”—a startup-funding program they run in cooperation with Spark NTNU. TrønderEnergi and Spark NTNU are highly supportive and generous toward new startups launched by NTNU students—and we are lucky to be one of them!
6AM: How do you see the future of the aquaculture industry in the Nordic countries?
NR: The aquaculture industry is undoubtedly going through an exciting period as it relates to digitization and automation—a trend we aspire to partake in. Land-based fish farming is booming, both nationally and internationally: Due to challenges in conventional sea-based farming (e.g., sea lice, disease, and poisonous algae), fish farmers are moving parts of their production to take place on land. This is great news for us!
6AM: What is the most challenging about the situation right now?
NR: We have been very lucky regarding COVID-19; its ramifications have not affected our progress that much. Naturally, we would be better off without the crisis, but there are many other startups that are going through more difficult times than us right now. We cross our fingers for them, and wish them well through these difficult times!
On the left picture: Henning (CTO), Marcus (COO), and Vidar (CEO). Credit: Njord Robotics