Horticulture farmers spend hours or even days selling their produce after laboratory tests. In a bid to address this issue, two young IIT-M alumni have come up with a ‘lab-in-a-pocket’ solution that can perform the work of a laboratory within seconds and deliver results that show the quality of produce.
Amit Srivatsava and Ankit Chauhan both from IITians from IIT-Madras, have set up an Agritech startup, InfyU, that builds gadgets that can digitally inspect horticultural crops such as fruits and vegetables at the source with much less human intervention, errors, and wastage. Thus, their brainchild ‘lab-in-a-pocket’ solution, InfyZer, is built on the Internet of Things (IoT) to give the results for fruits and vegetable growers.
‘We have a mouse-like device that scans the fruits in four seconds, processes them, and returns the results. An infrared light source penetrates the surface of the fruits, interacts with them, and then the signal is sent to our cloud servers through a smartphone app to get the results,’ Srivatsava, one of the two founders, explained.
Buyers such as wholesalers and aggregators select 6-8 apples weighing between 1 and 1.5 kg to test the quality of a tonne of apples. They cut the fruits and use various instruments to test their quality. ‘It makes no sense to determine quality in this manner. That’s where our device comes in handy, as it scans everything without any limitations,’ Srivatsava explained.
Chauhan, the other co-founder, who comes from an agriculutre family, and both IITian are concerned about food waste. ‘This is why both of us thought of coming up with an idea to develop a portable device that can test the quality of fresh fruits without cutting and checking them,’ one of the founders explained.
Fundamentals of spectroscopy
The portable device operates on the basis of the spectroscopy principle and is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) built on an Internet of Things platform.
Farmers are required to wait for 2-3 days during the peak harvest season. ‘Our solution saves farmers’ time spent waiting and even saves the 1-12 kg of apples taken for testing, which farmers must pay for. Despite the fact that it is a small amount, it can still make a marginal difference in the farmers’ income,’ Srivatsava said.
According to the InfyU founders, their device is a win-win situation for everyone.’We tell users that anyone can do the testing and that it can be done quickly. Farmers benefit as well because quality assurance ensures a higher price for them,’ he said, adding that the aid of the device in making ‘better and transparent’ decisions that are fair to all parties.
InfyU, which received funding from India Angel Investors, is currently in its first phase and is presently operational in Maharashtra, Shimla, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Noida, and Bhiwandi.
‘We have also started working with the Uttarakhand Department of Horticulture, in addition to working on a partnership with the Karnataka Department of Horticulture,’ Srivatsava said.
The company intends to expand to Nashik, Maharashtra, and Kashmir. InfyU has spent the last three years fine-tuning its technology, which has resulted in the company working with clients such as Adani Agrifresh, DeHaat, and Big Basket. It is also in talks with Tata Trent and a few other companies.
In addition to red chilli, InfyU is working on apples, mangoes, pomegranates, sweet lime, watermelon, and musk melon.
‘Our work is driven by requirements, and we calibrate our models after consulting with quality managers,’ Srivatsava explained. ‘We would have tested anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 apples before coming up with our solution. Apples are the most difficult to work with. We had to deal with various types of resistance, including questions about our quality reports,’ he explained.
‘We discovered that the client was taking the wrong measurements with old instruments. Some of our clients’ quality managers saw us as a threat to their jobs. We had to explain our idea to them. We also set up our own stalls at mandis where farmers were concerned that their produce would be labelled as sub-par. However, we told the farmers that our findings would give them more bargaining power because the reports ensured quality,’ the co-founder explained.
The decision by InfyU to participate in an apple festival aided in the interaction with farmers and orchard owners. With the apple season over, the start-up is now focusing its efforts on its mode.
InfyU, whose quality assurance solution is cost-effective, is considering partnering with large farmers who can supply directly to wholesalers and aggregators based on the test results it can provide.
‘We’re considering a scenario in which farmers can come and get reports. Our customers now want us to check fruit completely, including external features such as shape, colour, and other such issues,’ Srivatsava said, adding that customers were also concerned about taste and spoilage.
‘We are attempting to create an ecosystem for our solution, and our research and development team is investigating it. We’re looking into a variety of systems to assist buyers in finalising deals at the best possible price,’ he said.
InfyU is also looking into pre-harvest work, where it can use its device to assess the quality of the fruits on the tree and when they will be ready to be harvested.