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SME Instrument I - Feasibility Study

Abstract

The objective of this project is to demonstrate the breakthrough system - SaaS based B2B Greenhouse Artificial Intelligence Control System – which is a high-tech product to solve real world problems! CoolFarm represents the future of agriculture by bringing it into the cloud. CoolFarm is a disruptive solution based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, connected to the cloud and with an intuitive interface, adaptable to web, mobile and tablet supports, supported on a unique concept of controlling, in a precise way, the environmental variables that contribute to plants growth, which allows them to develop in the most healthy, efficient and effective way. Designed to nurture plants by controlling several environmental variables that have a direct impact on plant growth, Coolfarm provides them what they need, when they need it! This state-of-the–art Plug&Play solution, has established a new benchmark for cultivation farms making control easier and more intuitive, optimised in terms of plant growth and resource management, and as a result, more profitable, LOWER CAPEX and OPEX=HIGHER ROI (Return On Investment)! CoolFarm technology can be directly applied to two distinct markets, (i) hydroponic greenhouses which encompasses hydroponic and aquaponic urban greenhouses; and (ii) micro-algae reactors which are used to manufacture biofuels, and in the food and cosmetics industries. The solution proposed addresses European and global challenges, as it is very attractive for SMEs and large enterprises, contributing to increasing European competitiveness, namely, (i) Increasing urban agriculture market across Europe; (ii) Enhance the increase of the biofuel market that still lacks the means to be efficient; (iii) Increase the production in industrial greenhouses; (iv) Precision agriculture; and (v) Global issue of food needs by 2050.

Overview of the work done and results

Introduction:

CoolFarm brings disruptive technology that helps on the control and optimization of crop production in greenhouses or warehouses (urban farming, indoor farming inside the cities). This happens due to CoolFarm artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, resulting in more efficient management of human resources, water, nutrients, acid, and energy. All this information is reinforced by specific plant monitoring imagery sensors that help decision making and precision in crop production needs. The aim is to be able to deliver to the growers a robust control system thought for them and focused on crops, improving the efficiency of the production and increasing the profitability of the farm. CoolFarm is an extremely inspired brand that brings people close to global concerns and challenges regarding farm sustainability and the food needs by 2050.

The objective of this feasibility study was to demonstrate the breakthrough system - SaaS based B2B Greenhouse Artificial Intelligence Control System – which is a high-tech product to solve real world problems in agriculture. The action relied on the following tasks, which resulted in a go-to-market strategy with a well-validated product worldwide:

  • Task 1: Commercial strategy
  • Task 2: Business model and pricing
  • Task 3: Pilots and business strategy
  • Task 4: IPR strategy

Main tasks:

During the reporting period the CoolFarm team has conducted extensive testing and market studying in order to create a well-defined market strategy with a validated product. Besides completing a robust development of CoolFarm products, the following general tasks were performed during the project, in order to achieve this:

1. Presentation of the product in international trade shows to understand market needs, and to create client engagement (Fig. 1).

2. Coaching activities on the scope of SME Instrument. These activities took place in one of our test sites, a vertical aquaponics farm in London, UK. Here we were able to understand daily operations of a vertical farm, and we were also able to understand realistic production indicators for such farms.

3. Extensive technical and economical tests at CoolFarm labs, Torres Novas, Portugal, see Fig. 2. Here the objective is threefold: i) to present the product to potential clients and partners – whereby every week we have approximately 2-3 visits; ii) to test new features exhaustively, to stress the plants in order to obtain a wide range of data and help with the machine learning – the latter otherwise could not be performed in a commercial test site as for example, London site; iii) to collect profitability data on indoor farming achieved by CoolFarm.

Consequences on the development of the product:

With these activities, we were able to expand and complete the development of our product into a more market focused set of sub-products:

1. During coaching activities, it was understood that in a vertical farm daily operations are widely spent in the washing of the trays, as well as in the seeding, and packing (Fig. 3). This is more difficult for the top floors, where elevators are used to send the operator to harvest at high altitude. Moreover, due to the variation of the environmental conditions in height, it is difficult and costly to maintain uniform conditions. Considering these aspects, CoolFarm derived a turnkey solution to grow food all year round with minimum waste and maximum safety at work. CoolFarm in/store is a closed climatized and vertical space that works with hydroponics, LED lights, growing beds managed by lifts (that work both vertically and horizontally) and with all CoolFarm Technology. Seeding and harvesting are planned to be optimized as well. The goal is to bring fresh crops into different commercial places, close to people and all year round, with the capability to manage crop cycles in time, meaning more production, no costs in transportation, less environmental pollution and negligible waste.

2. Based on the economic indicators collected during coaching activities, as well as with all the results coming from our tests in Portugal, we created a sales software considering all the crop indicators of the crops tested until the moment. This software will allow any potential client to understand and design a farm with maximum profitability projections – either a typical vertical farm, or with the in/store system. The result given by the Profit Calculator relies on the following set of indicators: Production area; Investment; Production costs; and Payback time. Database and software are illustrated in Fig. 4.

3. During the prospection activities in the trade shows we were able to define better our clients and market. Partnerships with distribution companies and well established business consultants were established, potential OEM deals are being discussed, and the first commercial sites at a special price that will also serve as pilot tests were set up.

4. Additionally, during participation in trade shows, we understood the need to sell the CoolFarm Eye optical sensor as a standalone item. Until now it is used as an integral part of the CoolFarm in/control as to give information on the plants’ needs. Selling the optical sensor as a standalone item will serve as an analytics tool for the grower who already has a control system and wants to have information on the health and growth rate of his crops.

Current state of products:

In summary, CoolFarm is now composed of the following sub-products, undergoing CE marking as well as UL certification, and market validated:

  • 1. CoolFarm in/control and respective software CoolFarm in/cloud – the original CoolFarm control system;
  • 2. CoolFarm Eye –optical sensor that will give information to CoolFarm in/control on the plants health and size. It can be used as a standalone sensor, however when used with CoolFarm in/control its results are optimized since it will help understand the conditions needs to be given;
  • 3. CoolFarm in/store – turnkey growing system;

The state of products and main developments that occurred during the feasibility study period are described in the following paragraphs. CoolFarm starts commercialization in the beginning of 2017.

1. CoolFarm in/control and respective software CoolFarm in/cloud

CoolFarm in/control (Fig. 2 c) is composed by the CoolFarm Brain industrial computer, top notch sensors (such as Air temperature, Humidity and CO2; CoolFarm Eye; pH; EC; DO; ORP; Ammonia; Nitrate; Nitrite; Water Flow; Level Sensor and Pressure Sensor) and by the proprietary dashboard CoolFarm in/cloud.

Combining intelligence with the most advanced cloud based technology, growers can plug and play all sensors and actuators needed to control their growing system. CoolFarm introduces the concept of plant recipe (Fig. 5 b): the system actuation and control are now based on plant biological needed values.

CoolFarm in/cloud (Fig. 5) is a unique and easy to use dashboard thought for growers where all data is fully accessible 24/7, providing to growers the most professional management of all its greenhouses/warehouses.

Main developments with CoolFarm in/control took place at in the engineering level, by perfecting the existing concept. Here, great efforts were placed at the security of the system and all the data treated in the cloud. Finally, a new highly intuitive hardware module was introduced, allowing to control any hardware, from anywhere and at anytime thus avoiding problems with broken valves, air conditioning system, etc. (Fig. 6 b).

2. CoolFarm Eye

The CoolFarm Eye (Fig. 2 d) is an innovative cloud based optical sensor made to capture plants' area and plant greenness, monitoring crops through time. Using the Eye, growers can make wiser and straight forward decisions to achieve the best results.

When worked in a closed cycle with CoolFarm in/control, the Eye is responsible for centering the plant information in the system. With machine learning algorithms in the cloud, CoolFarm will understand in time and enough data how to relate environmental variables with a better health and growth of crops.

The CoolFarm Eye uses advanced computer vision algorithms to monitor crops through time. The imagery technique is non-destructive. All data is pushed to the cloud and displayed on the CoolFarm Eye dashboard to provide sense of plant growth rate/cycles and potential nutrients unbalances during the growing season. Information on detecting the location of problems can now be easily accessible (Fig. 7).

Great effort has been given in calibrating the health indexes to the CoolFarm Eye. This is done with a hyperspectral sensor at our labs and at test facilities in Inproplant labs (University of Coimbra, Portugal), see Fig. 8.

The CoolFarm Eye has received great interest from the agriculture market. Due to a great demand from potential clients, since it allows to reduce the fertigation error at the farm, a standalone version was therefore built and is now being commercialized.

3. CoolFarm in/store

CoolFarm in/store is a closed and vertical system with a clean and climatized environment inside, perfect to grow premium seedlings, microgreens, leafy greens, herbs and flowers. It uses 90% less water than common agriculture and it does not need pesticides nor herbicides. It is modular, whereby each module starts with approximately 100 square meters of production area. Its modularity is applicable both vertically and horizontally, providing a quick return of investment.

Another consequence of CoolFarm in/store is the socio-economic impact that it brings to the general public. With CoolFarm in/store we are able to provide grow fresh, nutritious and delicious food all year round with minimum waste and maximum safety. Cities now can become producers of local, healthy and tasty food. With CoolFarm in/store, food can grow inside retail shops and anyone can buy fresh and live vegetables with no artificial ingredients, contributing to food safety issues worldwide;

The system has two columns of movable hydroponic growing beds, one vertical lift, a fertigation system, topnotch sensors to measure all the variables concerning the plants, LED grow lights, CoolFarm in/control system and an antechamber.

The system is intelligent and highly intuitive for its operators. It is ideal for growers, food distributors, grocery and supermarket chains, research centers, medical centers and communities, thus opening opportunities to a wider market.

CoolFarm in/store is illustrated in Fig. 9. It is being built and perfected with the collaboration of experienced partners in the field of environmental control, as well as steel construction for industrial applications.

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