AgriData Innovations Eurostars project: AutoVert-Farm
A fully automated high-tech vertical farm based on breakthrough smart vision crop monitoring technology to solve the industry’s biggest challenges. The project, AutoVert-Farm, which kicked-off in August 2022, aims to deliver the first-of-its-kind crop performance and health monitoring system to enable a fully automated vertical farm at reduced operational costs. This revolutionary platform will leverage logistical robots to gather data on the crops, allowing autonomous image capturing and data collection of each individual plant. We spoke with AgriData Innovations Founder & CEO, William Simmonds, to learn more about ADI, AutoVert-Farm, and the collaboration with Catalyze towards the Eurostars success.
Beginning as students in 2015, William and co-Founder & CTO, Lucien Fesselet, developed drones for remote surveying use in greenhouses. After several years working on drone automation, they developed a viable disease & pest detection system to help growers with integrated pest management. Beginning in orchid greenhouses facing trouble with the fungal disease, Fusarium, they scanned the orchids and sold the grower a map of locations of diseases.
William points out, “That was a light bulb moment where we realised we are a data company. Since then, we stopped with the drones and we focused on being experts in imaging and crop monitoring AI.”
“We are the eyes for the grower”
Today, AgriData Innovations has multiple R&D lines at different stages of technology readiness.
“We’re getting better and better at taking our core expertise – imaging techniques and crop monitoring AI – to new applications. We are the eyes for the grower, using our cameras/RGB we recreate the crop in the colour spectrum, and in 3D space.”
William adds, “This Eurostars application that Catalyze helped us with is for a new application of our technology that we have never done before.”
The genesis of the Eurostars project
Following AgriData Innovations’ investment round in 2021, they were introduced to Cambridge HOK by Atrium Agri, leading to their subsequent introductions to SEC Storage, and Harvest London.
“Harvest London is developing a 5,000 sqm indoor, fully automated vertical farm, and they needed help with imaging. Due to the size and level of automation, it’s impossible to know what’s happening in, for example, Row 52, Aisle 7, Shelf layer 12. This led to the novel idea of integrating our imaging techniques with logistics equipment.”
Combined expertise to answer an industry need
In the Eurostars project, the consortium, consisting of AgriData Innovations (NL), CambridgeHOK (GB), and SEC Group (GB), has the combined expertise necessary in the fields of vertical farm engineering, logistical automation, and smart vision technology, to answer a significant and unmet need.
William explains, “For vertical farming to achieve a viable business model, the key to success is scale. However, with large scale comes several challenges. Irrigation and homogeneity of the climate are critical for farm performance. If either of these are set incorrectly, everything falls apart very quickly.
“The grower needs insights on the performance of the farm, ideally with high resolution sensors. But it’s very difficult to do that in a large-scale farm because of the huge number of sensors needed to put them on every shelf in every location. That’s where AutoVert-Farm will offer an effective solution at a low cost.”
Preparing the winning application with Catalyze’s support
Catalyze provided support throughout the application process in an enjoyable and successful collaboration.
William remarks, “It was excellent, especially being a smaller company like ourselves with these bigger consortium members, we would have really struggled to do this and take the initiative on a subsidy without Catalyze. Our consultant was super switched on and very engaged. We felt like she was a very good consultant to write it.”
William continues, “In particular our consultant helped us manage SEC, and HOK, especially when it came to things like the consortium agreement. We wouldn’t have taken those things very seriously. So I would strongly recommend using the services of Catalyze for this kind of project. The most amazing thing that Catalyze did for us was, after a major change in our approach to the project, how fast they pivoted to rewrite the proposal and still get the win.”
Keeping the focus on optimization
In the present Eurostars project, William explains how the focus is around innovation of the breakthrough smart vision crop monitoring technology, to ensure that it can work at this scale in the vertical farm.
“What Eurostars is allowing us to do is have the resources to invest in R&D of new ways to make this farm not only feasible, but also optimizable. We are aiming to bring the grower the ability to actually sit there, with their dashboard of the farm, and track the growth and health of all of the different batches throughout the entire vertical farm.”