Agri Business

AgNext Technologies introduces AI-based devices to test products quality

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on July 01, 2021

Devices can provide results of quality parameters in 30 seconds

 

A Punjab-based firm, AgNext Technologies, has come up with a system based on digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI) that combines hardware, software and algorithms to test agricultural products for quality. AgNext Technologies, headquartered at Mohali in Punjab, has come up with this offering at a time when testing of produce such as spices have been affected as the second phase of Covid has affected the availability of manpower.

“Testing samples from farmers cuts both ways. Farmers could be disgruntled as they may feel they are not paid the right price for the right quality. It can be the other way too where a buyer feels he is not getting the right quality for the price he is willing to pay,” sais Taranjit Singh Bhamra, Chief Executive Officer and founder of AgNext Technologies.

AgNext has basically come up with two launches. One is the Digital Coworker which is a portal device weighing less than two kg that uses AI along with computer vision.

For example, the Digital Coworker tests the quality of chilli or turmeric and gives out details of the capsaicin or curcumin content besides moisture, colour and other such physical parameters. “The device can provide all these details in a matter of 30 seconds. The data is then released to a central system to help the buyer or user to get details on the quality of the products,” Bhamra told BusinessLine.

Relying on experience

Testing quality is always a tricky issue with many buyers or traders relying on their experience. However, at the end of the day one of the stakeholders ends unhappy.

“This device should leave both the parties satisfied since at the press of a button all the details on the quality of the produce is made available in a matter of less than a minute,” said the CEO of AgNext Technologies, which National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (Nafed), Olam, Goodricke and the Compass group among its clients.

The company on its website says it tests 40 commodities for nearly 500-plus quality parameters.

“During the current Covid time when availability of manpower is an issue, the Digital Coworker can help work at a faster clip. It is also a step toward digitalising procurement and other quality processes,” Bhamra said.

The second device AgNext Technologies offers is Specx weighing seven kg and can be used for testing in all food value-chain and warehouses.

“Specx can be used by large exporters and other food value-chains for testing the quality. The device offers details of the product through trusted technology in a true atmosphere and a transparent manner,” the AgNext Technologies CEO and founder said.

Basically, both devices use AI to analyse the quality of a produce. Then, they put spectra technology to good use where the light reflection technology is utilised to analyse the chemical quality of the material.

“The light reflection is the same technology that Sir C V Raman developed and was awarded the Nobel prize,” says Bhamra, a product of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, and Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C).

AgNext Technologies offers these solutions for spices such as pepper and turmeric, foodgrains, oilseeds, pulses, tea and milk. “We have got a large exposure in foodgrains and milk sectors,” he said.

No manpower needed

The devices do not require any manpower nor is any consumable needed as its pure “technology at work”, he said.

On the other hand, there is also a shortage of human resources for testing the quality of agricultural produce. The devices can fill in this void too.

Incorporated in 2016, the company first began carrying out research and testing before it launched its first product a couple of years later. “For 2-3 years, we worked on research, hands-on in electronics to make the necessary algorithm perfect. We collected over 4,000 food samples to perfect our technology,” Bhamra said.

It first came out with devices for tea, foodgrains, pulses and milk before introducing them for spices in January last year.

Currently, AgNext Technologies makes outright sales of its devices or rents them out as per the customer’s choice. “Our costs are affordable. For example, a curcumin test in turmeric can cost anywhere between ₹600 and ₹900 but with our device it would be ₹50-100,” he said.

The company, which has attracted investments to the tune of $4 million from venture capitals such as Omnivore and Kalaari Capital, is now developing similar device to test cumin (jeera), coriander (dhaniya) and pepper.

Bhamra, who worked in the agriculture sector soon after graduating from IIT-Kharagpur before joining IIM-C, says data science can be used to solving problems in the agriculture sector, particularly with regard to quality assessments. “Today, millions of dollars are involved in the agriculture sector and quality plays a key role,” said the AgriNext CEO.

Pesticide residue

Bhamra said the biggest issue with regard to Indian agriculture today is the presence of pesticide residue in excess to the maximum level permitted. “Indian food standards are not measuring up to the quality parameter of importing countries. Besides, there is a lot of adulteration too,” he said.

For example, red bricks powder presence has been found in chilli, while the presence of cow dung has been noticed in coriander. “These are food safety issues. Sometimes, people end up paying ₹100 for a product that is worth only ₹20 based on its quality,” he says.

On the other hand, India enjoys the advantage of different agro-ecological zones and can “really do much better than what it is doing now”. “We have not tapped our full potential. We have not even made a start that can make us a global behemoth,” says Bhamra.

AgNext Technologies is trying to solve the core issue of trust and transparency in the food value chain, especially spices and is looking forward to becoming a global player in the near future, he added.

Published on May 14, 2021

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