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MUN Spin-out Inks International Deal

Agile Sensor Technologies Inc., a St. John’s maker of components for the robotics industry, has landed six figures in funding from and a partnership agreement with Gaitech International Limited of Shanghai, China.

Agile CEO Brian Terry said in an interview Thursday that the Chinese company has provided seed funding for his startup, which grew out of a research project at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Gaitech, which has offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul, will distribute Agile Sensor’s products in Asia and collaborate on the development of new products.

“We’re very excited about this new partnership,” Terry said in a statement. “Gaitech’s investment enables us to accelerate growth and launch our technology into international markets. Our collaboration with Gaitech on product development will result not only in new products, but also in rapid knowledge transfer for our team.”

The story of Agile Sensor began in 2007 when a group of MUN researchers secured funding from aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund. The group launched the company in 2014 originally to sell a proprietary quadcopter (a little unmanned helicopter with four rotors) that could fly with stability even in high winds.

Terry said Agile Sensor found that it had a range of products that could be used for different applications. So it morphed into a company that provides components to the burgeoning robotics industry, including drones and unmanned underwater vehicles.

The company’s products include a Parallel Kinematic Mechanism, which allows greater freedom of movement in the devices on unmanned vehicles, such as pointing a camera.

The company is working on an intelligent camera, which automatically locates an object and can instruct a drone or underwater craft to hold its position in relation to that object. It also has devices that increase the functionality in controlling motors on these vehicles.

Terry said he was exhibiting the products at a tradeshow in San Jose, Calif., in September when he met Gaitech CEO Jenssen Chang. They began to speak regularly, which led to the investment and partnership.

“We believe that the combination of Agile’s state-of-the-art FPGA (field-programmable gate array) technologies with our expertise in ROS (robot operating system) will result in several exciting new products for the high-growth global robotics market,” Chang said in the statement.

Terry had said previously that his company was looking for about $1.5 million in funding. He said Thursday that he may seek other funds such as grants, or raise more investment if needed in six to nine months.

“The business plan I floated in the past called for seven figures of funding,” said Terry. “But I don’t want it all at once. I want it in tranches.”

Agile Sensor is now working out of the Genesis Centre, the incubator affiliated with MUN, but will soon move as it’s outgrowing the space. The company has three employees but that will likely rise to seven by mid-April. As well as engineers, the company is adding sales and marketing staff.

“The next year is going to be all about increasing sales and doing it right in respect of the marketing side of things,” said Terry. “What we’ve got to do is get it out there, and get our products into Asia.”