Agri Business

Two IITians create ‘lab in a pocket’ that provide results of fruits & vegetables’ quality in seconds

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on October 11, 2021

InfyU’s mouse-like device can digitally scan farmers’ produce using IoT technology

For horticulture farmers who spend hours and even days to sell their produce after laboratory tests, two young IIT-M alumni have come up with a “lab in a pocket” solution that can perform the work of a laboratory within seconds and provide results that will be a quality assurance for their produce.

The IITians - Amit Srivastava and Ankit Chauhan - have set up an agritech firm InfyU that builds gadgets which can digitally inspect fruits and vegetables at source with much less human dependency, errors, and wastage.

Thus, their “lab in a pocket” solution is based on IoT to provide the results for fruits and vegetables produced by farmers.

How the device works

“We have a mouse-like device that scans the fruits in four seconds, processes and provides results. An infrared light source penetrates the surface of the fruits, interacts and comes out. The signal is passed to our cloud servers via a smartphone application to get the results,” Srivastava, one of the two founders, told BusinessLine.

Buyers such as wholesalers and aggregators pick up 6-8 apples that can weigh between one and 1.5 kg for testing the quality from, say, a tonne of apples. They cut and use different apparatus to test the fruits’ quality. “It doesn’t make sense to determine the quality in such a way. That’s where our device helps as it scans the whole lot without any restriction,” said Srivastava.

Chauhan, the other founder, comes from a farmer background and both the founders are concerned over food wastage. “This was the reason why both of us looked at created portable devices that can test the internal quality of fresh fruits without cutting them,” said Srivastava.

Amit Srivatsava

Spectroscopy principle

The mouse-like device works on the principle of spectroscopy powered by artificial intelligence created on an IoT- based platform. Though the number of apples taken from the lot could be 0.1 per cent only from a statistical point of view, “it accounts for a lot of wastage”, he said, adding that their device scans the whole lot without any restriction.

During the peak harvest period, farmers are forced to wait for 2-½-3 days. “Our solution saves the time farmers have to spend waiting and save even that 1-1-½ kg of apples taken for testing since the farmers have to bear the cost for it. Though a small quantity, it can make a marginal difference to the farmers’ income,” Srivastava said.

The InfyU founders say their device is a win-win solution for all. “We tell the customers that anyone can do the testing and that too quickly. Farmers also stand to benefit since quality assurance ensures a better price for them,” he said, adding the devices helps in taking a “better and transparent” decision that will be fair to all the parties.

Expansion plans

Currently, InfyU, which received funding from India Angel Investors, is going through its first phase. It is working in Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, Noida in Uttar Pradesh and Bhiwandi in Maharashtra. “We have also begun to work with the Department of Horticulture in Uttarakhand. The firm has plans to expand to Nashik in Maharashtra and Kashmir.

InfyU had worked on fine tuning its technology over the last three years and this has resulted in the startup working with some popular clients.

InfyU is working on fruits such as apples, mangoes, pomegranates, sweet lime, water melon and musk melon besides red chilli.

“Our working is based on the requirement and we calibrate our models after discussing with quality managers. What we come out is based on these calibrated solutions,” Srivastava said.

“We would have tested anywhere between 7,000 and 8,000 applies before we came out with our solution. Apples are the most difficult to handle. We had to face different types of resistance, including questioning our quality reports,” he said.

Ankit Chauhan

Teething problems

One of the InfyU clients had an old laboratory with standard analog instruments and results of fruits such as apples were compared with the lab results. “We found out that the Quality Control machinery was taking wrong measurements using old instruments. Some quality managers of our clients saw us as a threat to their jobs. We had to explain to them our concept.

“We also put up our own stalls at mandis where farmers were wary that their produce could be termed sub-standard. But we told the farmers that our results will empower them with better negotiating power since the reports ensure quality,” the start-up co-founder said.

InfyU’s decision to take part in an apple festival helped in interacting with farmers and orchard owners has helped a lot in interacting with farmers and large buyers. With the apple season getting over, the startup is now further working on its model.

The start-up is also an Amazon solution partner, wherein the latter promotes the partner’s solutions through its network.

Next scenario

InfyU, whose solution on quality assurance is cost-effective, is mulling working with large farmers, who can supply directly to wholesalers and aggregators based on the test results that it can provide. “We are looking at a scenario where farmers can come and get reports. Our customers are now wanting us to check fruit entirely, including external features such as shape, colour and other such issues,” Srivastava said, adding customers were looking at aspects such as taste and spoilage too.

“We are trying to get an ecosystem for our solution and our research and development is looking into it. We are exploring multiple systems to help buyers finalise deals for the best price,” he said.

In the long-term, InfyU is also looking at pre-harvest work where it can take its device and determine the quality of the produce on the tree and the time when it would be ready for harvest.

Published on October 10, 2021

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