When necessary, the US military employs devices containing ultra-sensitive sensors that can detect if a bomb will explode nearby.
Now, oddly enough, that same technology is being used to monitor and grow food.
Ag-tech startup FluxIoT has built a robot named Eddy with the same kind of military-grade sensors — except that they can analyze plant health. Eddy, which measures a few inches tall, is for hydroponic farming, a method of growing indoors without natural sunlight, pesticides, or soil.
Here’s how it works: Eddy sits in the growing reservoir, which contains transplanted crops after the seedlings have sprouted. The device monitors the entire process, making sure crops have the right amount of oxygen, nutrients, and light from LEDs. The system analyzes these data points in real-time, and sends reports to a mobile app.
Farmers can check out their crops with the app, which pings them if the plants are in danger (e.g. if they need more water, or if the pH level are off). The system also gives farmers advice every step of the way.
Small vegetable farms only need one Eddy, while larger ones might need multiple. The more Eddys that sit in growing reservoirs, the more accurate the readings are, Flux cofounder Karin Kloosterman tells Business Insider.
Eddy can monitor most crops, including tomatoes, flowers, strawberries, spices, greens, and cannabis. The latter could present a lucrative opportunity for FluxIot in coming years, as marijuana becomes legal in more states. The North American marijuana market garnered $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016, and is expected to reach $20.2 billion by 2021, according to a recent report from Arcview Market Research.
FluxIoT, which launched in 2014, works out of a greenhouse in Tel Aviv (though it’s also growing its US team in Colorado). The startup is led by cofounder and CTO Amichai Yifrach, who previously made special nano sniffers — computer sensors that detect explosives — and image processing tools to protect US troops at checkpoints in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s now using that same know-how to develop Eddy’s proprietary system.
Yifrach “built solutions for the toughest conditions and scenarios — to catch terrorists mainly. He had to build low-cost devices using available tech, like cell phones to see bombs and explosives or infiltrators. This is the approach we use in Eddy, but to understand plants,” Kloosterman says.
In early March, Flux raised $2 million in seed funding to start producing Eddys, and is planning another funding round up to $8 million in late 2017, according to Bloomberg. It expects to sell between 10,000 to 25,000 Eddys, priced at $179 each, this year.