Blue Radix, creators of automated intelligence:
‘We believe that algorithms can feed the world’
EatThis. contributor Blue Radix is a relatively new but well-known company in the world of horticulture. But this award winning AI-tech specialist looks outside of their own sector as well. They have their own vision on the future of food and want to share their story and solutions with stakeholders and the general public. That is why they participate in food and tech related events such as the International Horticultural Exhibition Floriade, which runs from April to October 2022 in Almere, the Netherlands.
In this in-depth interview we talk to Blue Radix about their vision, innovative solutions and efforts on educating and involving the public in their AI-based solutions on how to feed the world.
So, what is your vision on the future of food? And how does it relate to horticulture and food production?
With our solutions, based on artificial intelligence, for autonomous growing and autonomous energy management we contribute to solving some of the major worldwide challenges we’re facing: The world population is growing rapidly, and our planet lacks the resources to feed the world in a traditional way. The greenhouse sector is growing worldwide and offers an efficient way to produce food and flowers in a sustainable manner. But the number of people with expertise of growing crops in greenhouses is declining every year. At the same time, energy management is increasing in complexity.
We believe that algorithms can feed the world! Our algorithm-based solutions offer growers a digital brain for their greenhouse. We help growers to manage more hectares while they optimize their greenhouse climate, reduce their water and energy usage, and limit their operational risks and their ecological footprint. We help them to feed present and future generations in a healthy way without harming our planet.
Why is it important for the general public to know more about AI and how do you tell them this story?
We think it’s important to address the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in greenhouses and educate the public about the high level of innovations used in greenhouses. People are often unaware of how sustainable and with what technology their food is grown. That is why, for the innovation center in the Green House at the Floriade Expo, we created Virtual Victor. He shows people how Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions help manage autonomous greenhouses by enabling growers to oversee more hectares and realize higher yields.
To create Victor, we joined forces with fellow greenhouse technology providers, Gearbox and Ridder. We all believe that innovative technologies, such as smart algorithms, powerful climate computers and state-of-art vision technologies are at the core of digital growers such as Virtual Victor, who can manage the growing amount of greenhouse facilities in the world, fully autonomously.
Have a look on virtualvictor.io for more information and a meet and greet with Virtual Victor.
We’ll definitely go out to meet Virtual Victor. In the meantime, could you tell us more about what Blue Radix does?
We create automated intelligence for almost all daily decisions and actions in greenhouses. Our Crop Controller solution realizes the grower’s goals and unique crop strategy autonomously. During the entire growth period, AI continuously uses all available data from greenhouse sensors, climate boxes and meteo-data providers to forecast and optimize the climate and irrigation according to the cultivation planning.
Crop Controller integrates all the data and advises on 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. Growers can now shift their focus to increasing the quality of the crop strategy and devote more attention to scaling and innovation.
AI delivers the most optimal value when it’s smartly combined with the human touch. So, we combine Crop Controller with the support of an off-site Autonomous Greenhouse Manager. The Autonomous Greenhouse Manager helps growers to get started with autonomous growing, continuously monitors the situation in the greenhouse and is there to proactively discuss ideas, results, and improvements.
Learn more in our 1,5 minute animation (interview continues below the video):
The overarching theme of Floriade is Growing Green Cities. How do you envision the city of the future and what role does horticulture play in that future city environment?
This is a very current topic. By 2050, some 68% of the global population will live in cities. Food production is no longer the countryside’s prerogative. You already see a lot of vertical farms appearing around cities producing fresh vegetables. Lots of factories and offices that are currently empty can be used. Using these buildings for vertical farming creates a safe, healthy and sustainable pathway to providing the growing populations of these cities with locally-produced fresh food.
Right now, the main crops in vertical farms are lettuce, herbs and strawberries. The next challenge is to grow wired crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. Several trials and experiments are taking place to achieve this. To us, this is an interesting development to follow.
Besides the local production in the city, the cities will be fed by greenhouses nearby. Greenhouses with the best technology nearby the cities worldwide will be able to provide enough healthy and safe food for the growing populations. Produce locally and reduce the ecological footprint!
Horticulture is a sector that operates on the intersection of biology and technology. At least on paper, that is a very interesting and dynamic working environment to attract young people to your company. In practice, that is more difficult. How do you ensure that horticulture/food production is a ‘sexy’ working environment that makes a difference and impacts our future generations?
One of our colleagues recently said in an interview: “Working at Blue Radix is like working at the Tesla of horticulture. Our technology is evolving constantly. What’s good today isn’t good enough tomorrow.”
This challenge, combined with the purpose of finding solutions on how to feed the world with AI, really attracts young people. Besides that, we give presentations at high schools and visit job fairs to promote the use of AI in horticulture. And our office is located at the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, wich is a Unesco World heritage building that houses many young and creative companies. It’s really an inspiring working environment.
Due to geopolitical developments, food security and quality seem more important than ever before. What role does AI play in all this? And how accessible is your technology and how will it shape food security and quality on a global scale in the years to come?
As we are working towards an international network of food producing greenhouses all around the globe, the knowledge for operating these greenhouses is scarce. AI makes crop knowledge and high-end execution available for greenhouses at the most distant places. AI reduces the unnecessary mistakes in daily operations, is able to forecast and can prevent crop diseases to occur. The power of algorithms directly influences the safety of food production in a positive and scalable way.
Final question: Besides Virtual Victor, what should visitors of the Floriade Expo really go and see? What’s your insider visitor tip?
In the Green House, visitors can enjoy the beautiful flowers, plants and taste the amazing vegetables produced in the Netherlands. They can taste different kind of vegetables and guess if they are produced in a greenhouse or on land. Of course, they should visit the innovation center where they can learn more on Dutch innovative technologies and the importance of sustainable horticulture through various inspiring exhibitions. It’s a beautiful overview of what Dutch horticulture has to offer: we can be proud of that little country that feeds the world!
This interview is part of our Inside Out series of in-depth interviews with our contributors. Follow us on Instagram or Twitter for updates!