Vertigo Tech: contactless microwave assessment of fruit quality
Vertigo Technologies, together with Datamole (CZ) and Packman (ZA) join forces for the FreshAID project, aimed at reducing food waste with the first contactless microwave sensor to assess fruit quality. Catalyze provided support for Vertigo Technologies’ successful Eurostars application for FreshAID, which commences with a project budget of €2.1 million. Read our interview with Luca Galatro, PhD, Director of Vertigo Technologies.
Image from Vertigo Technologies.
Vertigo Tech was born in 2017 as a spin-off from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and utilize unique microwave technologies for various applications. In the FreshAID project, they take aim of food waste, and more specifically, food quality assessment. Together with an exciting consortium consisting of big data and data science experts, Datamole (Czech Republic), and innovative manufacturers and suppliers in fruit and vegetable packing solutions, Packman (South Africa), they are pioneering a new and highly innovating approach to fruit sorting. The FreshAID project aims to develop the first microwave-based, non-destructive quality inspection method to accurately assess and predict the internal quality of fruits and vegetables.
Vertigo Technologies Incorporated
Dr. Galatro studied at TU Delft for his PhD in electrical engineering, with a focus on high frequency microwave equipment used for measuring electronic devices used in 5G, 6G and automotive applications. During his PhD, Vertigo Tech was incorporated, and Luca and his research group’s expertise were moved to the company.
“Our group is specifically expert in microwave technologies in general, and there’s a subgroup specialized in microwave measurements. With these technologies there are many exciting things you can do. The application we are developing in FreshAID was discovered because the equipment we were using, by using it a certain way, could be used to also detect the internal qualities of fresh fruit.”
Luca says, “Initial developments happened at TU Delft, then Vertigo had the opportunity to take over. From then on we started to validate and talk with traders and farmers that were working in this field.”
Building on extensive validations and prototyping
From 2019, Vertigo Tech began extensive validations and prototyping, working with interested companies along the way. During this time they were contacted by the Yes!Delft tech incubator, which provides services to young tech startups to facilitate their growth. After applying, Vertigo Tech were accepted to Yes!Delft, which became an important catalyst in their subsequent development.
Luca recalls, “It was following acceptance to Yes!Delft that we started to work towards this Eurostars project. Because we started to really talk to people in the industry, to ask what are the real problems that people face that we can solve?”
In addition, they started to promote their idea more widely, through attending conferences. At the beginning of 2020, Vertigotech was selected as one of the 20 most promising startups in agritech in Europe and was invited to Fruit Logistica, the biggest European conference in the field.
Looking to Eurostars
Up until this point, Vertigotech’s technology was contact based. However, during validation they identified that to really impact the industry they needed to develop a product that could be integrated into fruit sorting lines.
As Luca explains, this led to their FreshAID project.
“Integrating our product into the sorting line machinery was always in mind, but the engineering is much more complex. Before, we had a sensor that was put into direct contact with the fruit, and there was minimal mechanics around it. There are many more challenges to integrating the sensor, which led to our Eurostars project where we join up with Datamole and Packman.”
Currently, ~1% of each batch of fruit and vegetables is cut for visual inspection, which then determines the fate of the entire batch. However, strikingly, 80% of disposed fruit and vegetables are actually of good quality. Thus, achieving accurate sorting on a single-item basis can significantly impact this huge amount of food waste.
Working with Catalyze on the application
Luca describes the experience of working with Catalyze: “We had previously worked with Catalyze and it was a good experience. So we told them about our R&D project idea. We needed partners that had packing expertise and machine learning expertise. We started to build the consortium in December and by February we had applied. It was a very fast but smooth application process and our project was ranked second overall”
Catalyze supported Vertigo Technologies in their successful Eurostars application. To build the consortium, they needed partners that could support the development of the sorting line version of their FreshAID product. With a fast turnaround, Catalyze identified ideal partners for the project.
Finishing, Luca adds, “Working with Catalyze simplifies life for the applicant to focus on highlighting specific content without needing to focus on consortium forming and writing, which can be tedious, but still requires an expert. They also know all the keywords, important aspects, and how the reviewer views the application. Overall it was a very smooth application process with a very big result!”
FreshAID will use both microwave technology and artificial intelligence to make fast and accurate assessments of the internal quality of fresh produce. With the sensor module integrated into the sorting line this will be achieved on a singular level, thus allowing readings to be made on each passing fruit or vegetable.
Luca explains, “Basically what we do is generate electromagnetic signals in a certain spectrum in the microwave range. Then this field interacts with the matter, in this case the fruit. From this interaction, using machine learning you can detect internal properties.
“For example, water content, what is dispersed in the water, like sugar, texture, ratio between dry and wet matter, acidity, and internal defects. Once, you can predict things about the fruit, there is no need to cut it open anymore.”
Catalyze is thrilled to partner with Vertigo Technologies and make valuable contributions to their important journey in reducing food waste.
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