Computer Vision Brings Clarity To Growers | Q & A With iUNU CEO Adam Greenberg
The Seattle-based company’s LUNA AI platform uses computer vision to monitor crop growth. LUNA delivers a system of mobile and fixed cameras with high-definition imaging and environmental sensors that measure and record everything down to the real-time growth rate of each plant. The software combines computer vision and machine learning technologies to continuously build detailed models of individual plants, unique among millions, throughout the day. What’s more, LUNA helps growers manage this information so they can be more productive and efficient – automating tracking, helping scout, and refining forecasts & planning.
The industry has taken notice. iUNU & Adam have been recognized with a Medal of Excellence nomination from Greenhouse Grower, best new indoor growing technology from the United Fresh Produce Association, and Adam was recently named to GPN’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2020. Adam will also be joining our Indoor Ag-Conversations CEO panel this week (see story below), “AI & Robotics: What’s Economically Viable and Feasible For Indoor Farms Today.” Ahead of this program, Indoor Ag-Con had a chance to talk to Adam about his growing business and plans for the future.
Q. What makes LUNA different from other greenhouse | indoor grower AI platforms on the market today?
We play in that nebulous gray zone connecting between ERP companies and control systems, but we’re not competing with any of them. Everyone has their control system vendor. We’re striving to be the trusted machine vision vendor. To us, it’s less about competition and marketing and more about how and where we fit in when it comes to helping customers solve problems and drive value.
Growers spend a lot of time keeping track of plants with manual data collection – walking up and down rows, noting issues on an ipad, and putting flags down to mark problems. Given the scale some growers must deal with, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. Forecasting presents an even bigger challenge that oftentimes ends up as a combination of best guesses and constant fine-tuning. During planning, issuing a single change order can take up to a week as the team works though that excel document. We aim to solve all these challenges with the clarity that comes from a quantifiable, data-driven process that takes the guesswork out of growing.
Q. Looking at our Indoor Ag-Con audience — which includes greenhouse growers as well as indoor |vertical farm growers — does your technology meet the needs for all these environments?
Our platform is being used by growers in all indoor categories, including vertical, greenhouses and grow rooms. In fact, vertical farm inquiries are our number one area of interest – from large to small operations – followed by interest from commercial scale greenhouses. The issue is that vertical farming is, perhaps, one of the most NDA-covered categories – to the point that operations could be located right next door to one another and not even know it. As a result, we are not able to share examples of some of our clients and successes in this space.
Q. Cost is a key component to any indoor farm. Please share some idea of the cost spectrum when one considers the implementation of any AI technology system within an indoor farm.
LUNA is a SaaS model where clients make recurring payments. As the camera vision captures images while riding around the greenhouse/indoor farm, it sends those images to LUNA’s data collection point where it is translated onto an app the grower can access on a cellphone or laptop. There are multiple pixels per millimeter and each photo and every single pixel is collected and analyzed. That leads to recurring costs and ongoing analysis. The more passes the camera makes, the costs are adjusted accordingly. Each customer — and each order iUNU gets from these customers — is unique. The iUNU team essentially acts as a semi-autonomous horticultural consultant as we recommend the number of passes needed to meet a grower’s goals and needs. This can range from a single daily pass for a grower seeking to find problems with chlorosis or mildew up to 8-10 passes a day for that grower who is a voracious consumer of data.
When it comes to budgeting for AI technology, I think we can learn from other industries. We follow the process of manufacturing where between 4-5% of industrial process automation goes to software, which has gone up to 7-8% today. I encourage clients to dedicate 4-7% of their budget to those things that will help improve processes and scale up.
Q: What’s Next for iUNU
I’d say there are three key areas of focus for us:
—Helping scale the industry to meet demand: We want to offer tools that help growers do more with less. In North America, for example, the greenhouse fruit and vegetable market is growing more than 20 percent annually. As greenhouses expand, they face labor shortages and challenges. We are focusing on ways to make indoor growing operations more profitable and efficient.
–API: Companies that cannot work with other companies will be replaced by other companies. I think any company that does not offer API (Application Programming Interface) will lose. We must connect all growing and operating tools together for the benefit of the grower.
–Food Safety: We want to significantly contribute to the continued push for food safety through our data collection. Food safety has become increasingly important to both consumers and the FDA.
Q. When it comes to AI, what is keeping you up at night?
I think there’s a general misconception when it comes to AI. It’s really nothing more than a buzz word for statistical analysis. People do not always understand this and think AI is something to be afraid of. When companies say they sell AI, it’s like saying ‘I’m selling the Cloud’ or ‘I’m selling API.’ In reality, AI is simply commoditized statistical learning. There is just so much marketing noise in the sector that it’s often hard to find the signal. Hopefully within 5 years the signal will become more pronounced so people can really hear it and understand it.
There is a lot of opacity in the sector today. The focus needs to be on companies that drive value and truly focus on the customer needs. Show value to the industry, your happy customers will handle the rest for you.
To learn more about iUNU and LUNA, visit www.iunu.com