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AI to supplement the human brain

Rudolf de Vetten (43 years) works as Chief Product Officer at Blue Radix. He is responsible for the company’s product development. In this interview he tells more about his background, what his vision is about the use of AI in horticulture and the importance of cooperation in the sector.

How did you end up in horticulture?
“I started at AgroEnergy seven years ago as a project manager in product development. Here I worked on developing software for autonomous energy management in a greenhouse. My background in software development and control systems complemented my role perfectly. When I studied System & Control Engineering at TU Delft, there was little connection between the technical universities and greenhouse horticulture. Fortunately, this has now changed significantly. Technical universities and our sector’s companies are joining forces in innovation.”

What is your vision on the use of AI in greenhouse horticulture?
I believe that we are very capable of making artificial intelligence and human knowledge work together in perfect harmony, not against each other. Where we first thought that human intelligence is unique and cannot be simulated, we are increasingly discovering that the human brain is actually very limited. We quickly make incorrect estimates, we overestimate ourselves and structurally underestimate others. Our memory does not look very far back and we are bad at predicting. These are all things in which computers excel. However, people are indispensable when it comes to creativity and innovation.

You also see that AI is increasingly playing a role in production processes. This means that AI generated models must be robust and be able to handle large data sets in a scalable manner. Despite of the recent development of AI, very few companies have experience in this field. The advantage we have at Blue Radix is ​​that we have been working on this for years. We also see a merger of data science and control systems. It’s not just about smart forecasting, but about making smart decisions. Within Blue Radix we use this very intensively.

Autonomous growing in horticulture will yield so many benefits that I expect crop managers no longer want anything else. Imagine we once navigated to our holiday destination with a map on our lap. Now you completely rely on your navigation app. Such an app on your smartphone processes much more data and accurately predicts when you will arrive. I expect within a few years growers will find it hard to believe that they once had to continuously adjust their climate and irrigation settings themselves. Companies with a shortage of crop managers are already eager to embrace these kinds of algorithms. And crop managers themselves too. After all, they can concentrate on what they are really good at: solving complex problems in cultivation with their innovative and creative mind.”

What’s the experience of the users of your software?
“Users of Crop Controller, our service for autonomous growing, have noticed that it has become a lot easier. With a limited number of settings we are able to offer a tailor-made result. We therefore learn from the data from the customer’s greenhouse in order to properly match the specific business situation. Together with expert knowledge, this provides precise control of the climate with minimal intervention. Although the algorithms do the thinking and action, we actively participate: our autonomous greenhouse manager remotely monitors the results of the models and coordinates with growers when it’s necessary. That makes it very easy, trustworthy and personal.”

What’s your opinion about collaboration in the sector?
“Horticultural entrepreneurs want to choose for themselves with whom they do business. This means that we work together with the parties that our customers also work with. We are very open minded towards other parties and are always looking for opportunities to cooperate with our customer’s interest in mind. This means that we retrieve data from various data platforms, can control multiple brands of climate computers and work together with many parties. We also send data back to data platforms so the user has all his insights in one dashboard. We notice that greenhouse managers appreciate this very much. It helps them to take a big step into the future with existing hardware as well.

Autonomous growing may still sound futuristic to some, but we are already realizing that.”