Heliponix LLC, doing business as Anu™ (previously gropod®), has been awarded a Phase II National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $970,993 and $75,000 in matching funding from Elevate Ventures.
Anu will continue its research and development work on multispectral photomorphogenesis that is now being deployed in conjunction with deep-learning, computer-vision algorithms within its novel rotary aeroponic cultivation chambers. It was previously awarded an NSF SBIR Phase I grant of $256,000, in addition to $50,000 in matching funding from Elevate Ventures. An online video shows the technology in use.
Anu was established six years ago by two undergraduate students at the Purdue Polytechnic Institute who were working on a NASA-funded research study at Purdue University. The research sought to optimize the photosynthetic efficiency of growing lettuce in a controlled-environment hydroponic chamber for astronauts to grow crops more efficiently in space. By manipulating the spectrum of LED light on the lettuce plants, the research team, led by Cary Mitchell, a professor of horticulture at the College of Agriculture, saw an increase in yields while simultaneously reducing the system's energy consumption.
Research team members Scott Massey and Ivan Ball, co-founders of Anu, saw an opportunity to further increase yields and minimize energy consumption. Their innovative design called the Rotary Aeroponic™ Cultivation Chamber, which has multiple patents pending, produces higher yields through its novel mechanical design coupled with a novel control algorithm facilitated through proprietary cloud software.
"Through decentralized, in-home production of produce, the wasteful inefficiencies and environmental destruction attributed to industrialized agriculture are eliminated while simultaneously delivering maximum freshness, flavor, and nutritional value directly to consumers conveniently," said Anu CEO Massey. "Produce is harvested when consumers are hungry rather than everything being harvested at the same time, which requires preservation of the produce. It simply stays alive and fresh until it's eaten. The Anu team is now composed of more than 20 team members and continues to grow rapidly."
Massey said the Phase I SBIR grant from the NSF supported Anu's "light recipe" research to maximize plant growth yields, nutritional content, and energy efficiency within the proprietary Rotary Aeroponic Cultivation Chambers.
"We are now deploying those discoveries into our Phase II deep-learning, computer-vision system to commercialize an autonomous cultivation system for consumers to sustainably eliminate their dependency on grocery stores for eligible produce varieties without preexisting horticultural knowledge required," Massey said. "Our 'Keurig for plants' commercialization strategy empowers consumers to grow their own Pure Produce® that is more food safe, free of any pesticides and/or preservatives, and has much less environmental impact than industrial agriculture. This accomplishment is a giant leap forward as this century's Victory Gardens will unite to become the world's largest farm without owning a single acre of land."
As a leader in tunable horticultural research lighting systems, the Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications (LESA) Center of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has and continues to work with Anu to provide research-grade, multispectral, tunable LED modules and associated programmable control systems compatible with Heliponix's rotary chamber. These modules are based on the LESA Center's TIGER horticulture research lighting modules and will provide the research flexibility needed in Phase II to optimize the LED illumination impact on plant growth variables in leafy greens, including biomass, crop yield, nutritional content, and energy efficiency.
"NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering," said Andrea Belz, division director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. "With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs."
Once a small business is awarded a Phase II SBIR/STTR grant of up to $1 million, it becomes eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.