By Kristen Hampshire
Robotic sensors and high-performance cameras create a data-rich, real-time visual, and report of every plant in a grower’s greenhouse.
A grower notices yellowing on a plant in the greenhouse. The discoloration is slight — and it’s difficult to determine whether the condition is worse than the day before. What if that grower could zero in on the plant in question and time-travel back a day or two?
“If you think about what happens today in a typical greenhouse, a grower might detect a symptom and he has to wait several days to see how it develops,” says Matt King, chief technology officer at iUNU, which developed Luna, a computer vision platform that offers plant-level data analysis via sensors and high-definition imaging.
With Luna, the grower can “scroll back in time” and identify exactly what a single plant looked like 24 hours ago when it was imaged by the high-end camera that operates on a hanging-rail system.
“Think of it as a scanner that builds a Google Maps of your greenhouse,” relates Adam Greenberg, co-founder and CEO of iUNU. Luna’s ultimate mission is to identify plant health concerns before they occur, and this early detection makes all the difference in improving greenhouse production, reducing labor, and elevating the quality of product a grower can offer retailers.
With this system, growers can identify potential problems through real-time visibility. They can respond faster and focus on the plants that actually need their attention. “You know the old adage, ‘The best fertilizer is the grower’s shadow,’” King says. “With this technology, growers can spend their time focused on the plants that need it.”
Accurately Gauge Growth Rate
“The growth rate of a plant is like the heartbeat of a human,” says King, relating what differentiates Luna technology from others.
“Having an actual, statistical, repeatable, objective measurement of growth is the best indicator we know of to determine the health of a plant,” King says. “Growth rate is where diagnostics must start, and if the growth rate of a plant is right, if the flower count is right, then the plant is right.”
The challenge is growers managing thousands or even millions of plants can’t possibly track and recall millimeters of growth. Sure, they record and retain critical plant data — but how specific can a human be?
“You’re relying on your eyeballs,” King says. “There are some really good eyeballs out there, but they can’t be everywhere at every time. But cameras are everywhere all the time measuring growth rate, and that foundational data changes decision-making processes and changes production processes.”
Consider the task of evaluating plant readiness. By automating this process, the technology can identify which plants are ready and where those plants are located in the greenhouse. The labor-saving benefit here is reduced scouting time. Plus, a digital flagging labor-management system allows growers to extend an existing flagging system to assign work tasks to a digital version of the same flags.
“Growers can let the computer do basic scouting, inventory tracking, and growth-rate measures so people can focus on what they are best at,” Greenberg says.
Also, inventory tracking can be automated, and the ability to assure that plants meet retailers’ specifications can reduce friction between sales and production staffs, Greenberg points out. Inventory counts and space utilization measurements are recorded automatically.
Augment Grower Capabilities
A system like Luna isn’t designed to replace a growing team — it enhances talent in a growing operation. Early adopters of the technology include growers who are on a quest for continuous improvement.
“You can get day-over-day continuous improvement instead of crop-turn-over-crop turn improvement,” Greenberg says. “And, for growers with more than one facility, this is a no-brainer.” King adds, “Automation allows growers to have visibility directly at their fingertips.”
The technology gives growers the data necessary to make decisions before plant health declines. “That basic data, alone, is a fundamental game-changer,” King says.