At Analog Devices, we never stop asking “What if?” It’s what led us to invest in the Internet of Tomatoes and in SCiO spectroscopy technology. And then we asked, “What if we applied one to the other?” The question is leading to some very palatable answers.
The Analog Garage isn’t just about scouting around for innovations. Sometimes it’s also about making new discoveries by applying one innovation to another.
Take, for example, the Analog Garage’s collaboration with start-up Consumer Physics. The start-up’s SCiO spectroscopy technology uses near-infrared lasers and cloud-based analytics to determine the composition of liquid and solid materials. ADI is helping Consumer Physics to scale the solution and miniaturize it into a module small enough to embed in smartphones.
Mentors for ADI’s corporate incubator, together with an internal Analog Devices development team, recently found that if it could apply the sensor-to-cloud material-sensing innovation to the team’s Internet of Tomatoes project, it could not only help farmers improve yields and cut costs. It could also help them grow tomatoes that taste better.
The Analog Garage is always searching for tough problems whose solutions are linked to the connection between the physical world and digital. The science of spectroscopy is well known, but the opto-electronic systems are expensive and cumbersome. New technology like handheld spectroscopes applied to the Internet of Tomatoes platform revealed a compelling use case with great potential for the precision agriculture market, which is forecasted to mushroom to nearly $5 billion by 2020.
Thus far, the Internet of Tomatoes initiative has helped New England farmers inject precision into their processes by planting sensors amidst rows of tomatoes to collect temperature, humidity, and ambient light measurements. Solar-powered gateways send the data up to the cloud for analysis. Farmers view insights from the system on their smartphones.
First, the IoT (that’s tomatoes) tackled pest management, helping farmers pinpoint the best time to treat the crops to combat specific insects. More recently, the initiative has been putting the in-field sensors to work on reducing damage from mold.
Historically, farmers would rely on online weather data to help decide how much to water. They now know, thanks to the Internet of Tomatoes, that the online data doesn’t correlate very well with actual plant-by-plant moisture levels. Armed with precise insights from the sensor-to-cloud system, the farmers knew to water less this past summer because the analytics revealed that, despite an extended drought, their fields were getting moisture from unusually high humidity.
The successes are generating interest from a growing group of farmers who now see the potential for the Internet of Tomatoes to better their businesses. So the team is beginning to develop business models to take the service to market.
In the meantime, the Internet of Tomatoes team is exploring new market potential by adding insight gleaned from the handheld Consumer Physics SCiO spectrometer devices. Consumer Physics plugged into the Analog Garage via MassChallenge, one of the Analog Garage’s incubator partners. (For its part, the Internet of Tomatoes sprang from an internal Analog Devices project.)
The Quest for Taste
The team is finding that, with their cloud analytics, they can “teach” the handheld devices to identify the tastiest tomatoes. That’s an exciting prospect for New England farmers because tomatoes suitable for the produce aisle command a tenfold premium over those destined for ketchup bottles and sauce cans, where much of New England’s crop ends up.
First, the team built a quality database in the cloud. They asked three chefs to taste-test 40 tomatoes, and then they tested them destructively and recorded the results. Then late this summer, they put the system to the test at the Annual Massachusetts Tomato Contest in Boston.
Ahead of the tasting, the team nondestructively scanned over 400 entrants and sent their water, glucose and salt content to the cloud for analysis. After the judges’ scorecards were tabulated, it turned out that Version 1.0 of the Internet of Tomatoes’ new Taste-o-meter accurately predicted the top four tomatoes in the Cherry category, five of the top ten in the Heirloom category and the actual winner in the Field category.
The team is already at work to improve the system’s predictive prowess. It had better. In addition to the farmers, chefs familiar with the test are asking to buy the devices. If they had a tool that could pick tomatoes as well as they could, it would mean they could save time by sending helpers to buy produce at the market rather than doing it themselves.
Which just goes to show you that, sometimes, two Analog Garage projects are better than one!