An Auckland-based Agtech company is developing artificial intelligence (AI) so that the world’s indoor commercial growers can talk to an avatar about the health and progress of their crops.
According to a recent report, this will help feed growing populations and improve the profitability of under-pressure indoor growers and farmers.
The company is setting up shop in California, America’s fresh produce-growing heart.
The move will help the company have its finger on the pulse of America’s US$20 billion (NZ$ 30.7 billion) vegetable production market and the US$6 – 8 billion berry sector.
The company is pioneering new technologies, but is actually 25 years old. It leapt out of the box around 2011 when it developed Multigrow, which was launched in 2012 and is still sold at present.
Multigrow is a flexible system that can be configured to perform climate, control, fertigation, dosing, batching and irrigation.
The system allowed them to gather a lot of data. Since Agtech is an emerging field, the data can be reinvented to take advantage of all the new technology that existed for AI and data science and analytics and machine vision.
The whole indoor farming industry was in a bubble and this became an opportunity to advance the technology and disrupt the industry with a fusion between plant biological science and data science and advanced technology, which are the three things that Autogrow now utilises.
Data measures everything from temperature and humidity to the alkaline or acidity of water supply, weather factors, wind direction, and solar radiation levels.
The data points are tracked and used to inform the technology about what it needs to do to feed plants, water, and control the temperature, among others.
This information can be used to predict what is going to happen with the fruit, whether it will be healthy or not, as well as if it will be ready for harvest.
Traditional technologies do not have the computational firepower to process all this data.
The company is only one of six companies in the world using this type of tech in the controlled environment.
But it would have needed to find US $100 million to distribute its technology without an established tech platform partner.
Four partners were considered: Google, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services and the company went with Amazon.
The idea involves pulling all the data up into the Cloud then it runs through the company’s data processing engine.
Their tool sits on Amazon and it allows the company to deploy it to any farm anywhere in the world as long as they have Internet connectivity.
The data from the farms can be taken, processed and then be returned as useful information that would describe what is happening with their crop and farm production.
Growers buy the hardware and subscribe to the technologies suite, which is an “open platform”, thus allowing it to integrate with other operating systems.
AI is the company’s next frontier aiming to be the first Agtech company in the world to commercialise voice technology that allows growers to ask an avatar about the state of a crop.
And it will not be too long before the AI will be able to self-correct the problems and risks it identifies.