Hortibiz Daily News Editor Ece Polat talked with Blue Radix CEO and Co-Founder, Ronald Hoek, about the growth of the company and his vision on the use of AI in greenhouses. Ronald also explains why growers choose for autonomous growing and what the main differences are between data-driven and autonomous growing.
Blue Radix is an horticultural AI-Tech company which was founded in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in July 2019 by CEO Ronald Hoek, CPO Rudolf de Vetten and COO Laurens van der Spek. The company has been building its team with the best experts from all kind of cultures and backgrounds. So now they’re with 24 men and women originating from Poland, Germany, Iran, India, Congo and The Netherlands.
Blue Radix develops algorithms for daily processes in greenhouses such as climate management, energy management and irrigation. The services are worldwide available. The company is expanding fast and actively steering greenhouse processes autonomously in more than 10 countries.
Curious for more? Read the full interview below.
HORTIBIZ DAILY NEWS: A lot of data-solutions are introduced in horticulture, can you explain the difference between data-driven growing and autonomous growing?
RONALD HOEK: Data-driven growing has been a big step forward in the last ten years. It’s not really new. A lot of data was already available in greenhouses. Think about data in climate computers and in the Excel sheets which are used by growers to analyze their work.
Data-driven growing is based on the idea that growers work with data and dashboards. They interpret the data, make analysis, get the correct conclusions and transfer them to a substantiated action plan. It means that the growers know what they’re doing based on the data. This can help to improve results. But, with data-driven growing, growers still have to process and analyze the data themselves. This is complex and suboptimal, especially when the company lacks the time from skilled and experienced growers to manage all the processes.
When it comes to autonomous growing, it’s the next level. Our service Crop Controller integrates all relevant data and calculates how to adjust the settings of greenhouse automation hardware (e.g., the climate computer) to achieve and maintain optimal greenhouse conditions in the most cost-efficient way. With the grower’s consent, Crop Controller autonomously controls the installations to reach the targets defined by the grower. This means the grower no longer needs to analyze all the greenhouse data or manually set the climate computer.
In autonomous growing, the algorithms do the hard work of analyzing the data and take action. Of course, the grower still defines the goals and direction. The grower basically has a virtual colleague-grower who executes the company’s strategy in the most optimized way possible.
The grower remains in the lead and is supported by an Autonomous Greenhouse Manager who continuously monitors the situation in the greenhouse and is there to proactively discuss ideas, results and improvements with the grower.
HBD: Why do growers choose autonomous growing? What are the benefits for them and the environment?
RH: In case the company wants to build a greenhouse of another 10 hectares, it needs to have more people to manage the expansion. When the company doesn’t have skilled growers enough to operate those hectares, autonomous growing can be used to help the existing grower to become more efficient.
An important value that Blue Radix offers with the autonomous growing system Crop Controller is that the same amount of growers can manage and oversee more hectares. For example, the grower who can manage 10 hectares will be able to manage up to 40 hectares with Crop Controller.
Another benefit is that the yield and the quality are better. As the autonomous growing system is always running 24/7, the growers make less unnecessary mistakes in operations. For example, plants are growing more stable and show less mildew or botrytis.
We also see the advantage in terms of reducing energy consumption. Crop Controller is more efficient when it comes to energy costs.
HBD: In which countries does Blue Radix have customers? Do you see any differences in the use of Crop Controller?
RH: Blue Radix operates globally: Crop Controller steers greenhouses in Canada, The U.S., Mexico, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, South Korea and The Netherlands.
The climate conditions can vary a lot. Crop Controller is capable of working in all different climate conditions we’ve seen so far. The system optimizes each location separately based on the grower’s strategy, which makes it very ‘tailor-made’ for each company. In some regions specific installations are being used. If we’ve never seen this specific installation before, we do have to adjust the algorithms to be able to work with it. Fortunately, we’ve seen a lot now, which means our coverage with Crop Controller is extensive.
Of course, there are many differences, for instance on a cultural level. But in the end, every grower wants to be predictable, optimize yield and get the most out of the hard work in a controlled environment.
HBD: What is your vision of the use of AI in greenhouses, what will horticulture look like in 5 years?
RH: Together, we are working towards an AI-driven ecosystem in greenhouses. We will see more and more AI-driven solutions and installations, which are interconnected. Data will come from many different cameras and sensors. This data can be processed perfectly by a well connected AI-driven system, which is also capable of defining the setting for the installations. Beyond human capabilities. It’s also an important and necessary infrastructure to get the most value out of the investment in robotics, which will increase strongly in the coming years. I believe that we are heading for an horticulture industry where the grower’s strategy for the most part will be executed by algorithms.
So, the openness, joint structures and cooperation will become more and more important among greenhouse suppliers in the best interest of growers and greenhouse entrepreneurs. Together we can overcome the hurdles and let the industry flourish.
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