Phenospex, a Dutch startup manufacturing a novel type of sensor for the ag industry, has raised €2 million ($2.4 million) in Series A funding. Future Food Fund, a new agrifood tech venture fund based in the Netherlands, led the round with existing investor LIOF, a Dutch regional development fund, participating.
The startup will use the funding to expand into new markets geographically and within agriculture, and develop new technologies in-house, including robotics and automation.
With its sensor technology, Phenospex aims to get around the constraints of existing sensing options such as RGB and multispectral cameras, to address the over-use of chemicals and fertilizers in industrial farming. The sensor, which Phenospex calls the PlantEye F500, measures various aspects of a crop including the amount of biomass, how fast a plant grows, disease, crop health and more.
Unsatisfied with the options on the market, CEO Grégoire Hummel and his colleagues Uladzimir Zhokhavets and Stefan Schwartz, who together hold PhDs and degrees in plant science, physics, and operations research, created “a 3D laser scanner combined with a multispectral camera” to phenotype crops. (A phenotype is the composite of an organism‘s observable characteristics or traits, its behavior, and the products of its behavior.)
It can compute automatically a wide variety of morphological parameters — such as plant height, 3D leaf area, projected leaf area, digital biomass, leaf inclination, leaf area index, light penetration depth, leaf coverage — and can measure a spectral reflectance for each point of the plant to statistically analyze each wavelength for greenness, chlorophyll levels or to detect senescence.
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“There’s nothing out like this; it’s really a new class of sensor,” Hummel told AgFunderNews.
“Normally when you combine, fuse or overlay data from different optical sensors, you face a perspective problem. Our sensor uses the same optical path so we can overlay 3D data with spectral information in high precision and in real time.”
Hummel added that the sensor, which can be attached to machinery to pass over crops, does not require reference images for calibration, or sunlight as it actively projects lights onto crops, so can work effectively in day or night.
Phenospex has an accompanying software program, delivering actionable insights to its clients.
The company’s clients currently include plant breeders, phenotypes, and inputs companies who are using Phenospex in their trials indoors and outdoors across a wide variety of crop types. The startup is now moving into robotics and automation with the aim of using information about the state of a crop to automate tasks for farming clients. For example with harvesting, the sensor and software will instruct robots on when to harvest, based on the progress of a crop, and on the dimensions of a crop before it performs its duties.
Phenospex is partnering with a farmer client on the development of a robotic prototype, although becoming a robotics manufacturer is not in the company’s long term game plan, according to Hummel.