“At Enkitek, we provide the tools needed to industrialize the vertical farming sector by introducing digitalization and artificial intelligence,” says Víctor Cantón Ferrer, CEO at the Barcelona-based agtech company Enkitek.
Víctor Cantón Ferrer
As Victor explains, Enkitek’s main service is the provision of a digital platform that any indoor farm can use to create a digital twin of all its processes and operations. Then, this digital twin can be connected to the real farm through the use of IoT devices which then track environmental parameters, allow control of the system and acquire images to track growth.
With respect to image acquisition, growers can more easily detect pests and diseases or track the crop’s growth rate. Images taken by the system I process with deep learning algorithms and if a problem is detected, an automated task can be launched such as sending an alert to a farmer or adjusting the environmental parameters. Another service offered is it deployment of customized hardware solutions connected to the platform.
“The last service connected to our platform is a deployment of customized hardware solutions to automate a specific task. For this, we rely on third parties to build and deploy the needed hardware based on our requirements,” says Victor.
How close is vertical farming to being truly automated?
According to Victor, robotics (specifically 6- or 7-axis robotics) at the state-of-the-art of automation, with enough adaptability to perform any task done by humans. At this point, the missing link is to manage the actions of the robot in uncertain environments. Artificial intelligence is already working to bridge that gap.
“Humans can harvest strawberries or apples just by adapting the way they use their hands and arms. They may not do it right the first time but they will learn how to do it properly without any physical change in themselves. The same thing happens with robots,” Victor explains.
Specific advantages of robotics include the ability to work without interruption and their performance. However, humans are still better at adapting quickly to new tasks as we do not require hardware or software updates to do so.
According to Victor, the investment in robotics makes the most sense when you can ensure that the technology will be in use roughly 70% of the time. The more you use the technology, the shorter your return on your investment. If the robots are inactive for half of the day, that simply extends the payback period. In all cases, a positive business case needs to be developed first.
Enkitek's Manufacturing Execution System
“The deployment of robots is not a matter of size, but of business maturity. If your business case estimates a two-year payback and you are sure you will still be producing in two years, it makes sense.
Enkitek is there to help growers integrate robotics into their vertical farming systems, beginning with the introduction of the digitalization platform to better control their operations, then IoT enhancement and finally the introduction of automation. At this last step, Enkitek supports the farm in finding a hardware integrator that suits their needs and interfaces with Enkitek’s digital platform.
Enkitek is improving its platform by developing a CRM/ERP integration to allow farms to manage all operations from the platform, as well as deep learning algorithms to optimize growing cycles.
“We are the developers of our solution so we have the freedom to evolve it at will and we are eager to find new ways to provide better services to farmers,” Victor says.