Agricultural innovations through design thinking
NKC and KMD — “Agbee”
“Agbee” is a moving cart and related application service that was developed based on the concept of a “partner robot for farmers.” The name “agbee” is a combination of the first syllables of the Japanese pronunciation for the English words “agriculture” and “vehicle.” The cart follows after its user whom it supports with the loading, transportation, and unloading of tools and equipment, reducing his or her physical burden. Furthermore, it is equipped with numerous sensors that assess the status of cultivated land and quantify harvest yields. This data is managed using an app and can help with the planning of harvests.
Agbee originates from the “NKC Innovation Project” of KMD and Nakanishi Metal Works (NKC). NKC holds the largest share of the Japanese market for bearing retainers. This relationship came about after managers of NKC attended a lecture on design thinking given by Professor Naoto Okude as part of a study group held in Osaka in 2011, and we have conducted a joint industry-academia project since 2014. In this project, we have continuously repeated the process of first visiting farmers to observe and survey their work, developing concepts and producing prototypes at the innovation studio of NKC, and then monitoring the responses of users and manufacturers at exhibitions. According to the project leader Mr. Kouki Kimura, “Forming a team made up of people from a university and various company divisions with no previous connections in order to create something new was a really enjoyable and illuminating experience.” Professor Okude also recalls, “It was a great experience for the students to temporarily live in Osaka and gain a firsthand appreciation of what it is like to make things in an actual factory while putting design thinking into practice.”
The project’s bywords are the “farmer’s upcoming year.” This phrase encapsulates the outlook for the year ahead expressed in the wishes of farmers which we heard during our fieldwork to “increase the harvest yield” or to “try new varieties” by next year. Mr. Kimura continues, “I enjoy the actual trial and error process. Rather than automatizing everything, I just want to reduce time-consuming and physically demanding tasks, while keeping all of the things that make farming fun.” This sentiment of the project members was reflected in the development of agbee, and expectations toward the final product have risen, especially among farmers. The full commercialization of the agbee project will begin from April 2018, and trials with farmers will commence from the Fall. Mr. Kimura, who has already set his sights on the “next stage,” says he wants “to promote the rich farming lifestyle that is realized through using agbee.” Targeting a broad market that includes not only professionals but part-time farmers and those with household vegetable patches, we want to popularize the positive aspects of farming. The agbee project, which Mr. Kimura enthusiastically touts as something he hopes will be his life’s work, is finally being launched as a business independent of the collaboration with KMD.
Nakanishi Metal Works Co., Ltd.
Mr. Kouki Kimura
Agbee follows after its user
The development team of Agbee
Nakanishi Metal Works Co., Ltd. Agri-innovation Team Mr. Kouki Kimura