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

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

Horticulture farmers spend hours or even days to sell their produce after laboratory tests. In a bid to address this issue, 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 deliver results that shows the quality of a produce.

The IITians – Amit Srivatsava 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, InfyZer, is based on Internet of Things (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,” Srivatsava, one of the two founders, told BusinessLine.

Amit Srivatsava

Buyers such as wholesalers and aggregators pick up 6-8 apples that can weigh between 1 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 this way. That’s where our device helps as it scans the whole lot without any restriction,” said Srivatsava.

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

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. Eventhough it is a small quantity, it can still make a marginal difference to the farmers’ income,” Srivatsava 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 that 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 besides working on a partnership with the Karnataka Department of Horticulture,” Srivatsava said.

Ankit Chauhan

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 start-up working with clients such as Adani Agrifresh, DeHaat, Big Basket. It is also in discussion with Tata Trent and a couple of others.

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,” Srivatsava said. “We would have tested anywhere between 7,000 and 8,000 apples 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.

Teething problems

One of the InfyU clients had an old laboratory with standard analogue instruments and results of fruits such as apples were compared with the lab results.

“We found out that the client himself 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 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 start-up 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. It is promoting its solution through the mandis and is discussing piloting its concept with Chennai-based start-up Sammunnati.

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,” Srivatsava 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.

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