5 Control System Questions with Darryn Keiller of Autogrow

Darryn Keiller, CEO of control company Autogrow, came to the company from a consulting background, and has led the New Zealand-based company to a sub $3mn equity raise since taking the helm.  Ahead of his presentation at Indoor Ag-Con on May 3-4, we caught up with Darryn to ask him about big data and the future of controls in controlled environment agriculture.

1. Autogrow has created a dedicated system – RoomBoss – for controlled environment applications. What drove you to do that?

Market need. Urban and vertical systems are on the rise; from a control and automation perspective innovators in this space have either a) been sourcing from industry vendors existing technology created for Greenhouse production or b) building their own. What is needed is a technology approach that is purpose designed for systems using LED / HPS grow lights, CO2 management and integrates dosing control and all other automation requirements. The Room Boss is a Beta product that also anticipates controlling automated harvesting and robotics. It’s an Internet of Things based platform, not just a device.

2. How much of the hoopla over the application of big data in the industry is well-founded and how much is just hype?

Certainly, there is no shortage of hype. Along with machine learning, deep learning, etc. in every other sentence. The opportunity to apply these data methodologies and techniques to solve real world problems in agriculture is real. The time-line to make these effective and beneficial on a prolific basis is a lot longer than everyone would like. Part of this is due to the slow rate of market adoption and part of it is the technology development itself. Its potential is well-founded.

3. What’s the most common mistake you see beginning farmers make when picking a control system?

The first thing is considering the control and automation side of things last – this happens all the time. And it then leaves the farmer trying to find a solution with what’s left of their budget. Automating your production is key to consistently great crops and profitability through using less labour and managing inputs like water, energy and nutrients. The second part is thinking ahead – if you purchase a limited system now, then what happens when you decide to scale your operations? Sometimes spending a little more now is better than having to “rip and replace” technology later. The approach is to obtain technology that is flexible and modular, that grows as you grow.

4. What do you expect control systems to look like in five years’ time?

I expect most indoor growing environments will be fully automated with no human component except pre-planting and post-harvest. All automation and control to be cloud delivered and all physical automation will be carried out through a variety IoT devices and multi-functions sensors. This will include automated robotic harvesting – it’s already here when you look at examples like Urban Crop Solutions of Belgium or integration of machine vision solutions for crop monitoring, pest and pathogen detection as examples.

5. What’s the biggest advantage that being a Kiwi gives you?

We’re a nation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs – it’s how Autogrow began 24 years ago. As a nation, we have a deep history in horticulture, agriculture and pastoral production including R&D in genomics, biologics and technology. We even have our own Rocket company which despite the name was founded and is based in New Zealand. A nation of 4.5m we feed 40m people, exporting 95% of what we produce to 100 countries, every month, including beef, wool, seafood, dairy products and fruit. Because of our location, we travel the World and we embrace the idea of boundarylessness – no limits! Autogrow now exports to 30 countries around the globe.

See Darryn Speak at the 5th Annual Indoor Ag-Con on May 3-4, 2017 


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