In addition to all sorts of wonderful innovative companies in the agricultural and horticultural sector, my regular clients include companies from a wide variety of fields. One of these is Tencent, the listed Internet giant.
Tencent started out in the world of computer games, the Internet and artificial intelligence, but is now also advancing in the field of medical technology and the agricultural sector. I am therefore very proud that following a strict selection process, they selected our office as their preferred agent for Europe. In the past year alone, we have filed over one hundred European patent applications for them.
Another loyal client we are very proud of is Wageningen University & Research. It has consistently been voted the best agricultural university in the world (which is why my daughter went there). It is also a major incubator of innovative start-ups and has recently added three new professors in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. A couple of years ago, it was a great pleasure for us to move into an office on the WUR campus.
International Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge
And what could be better than for these two innovation giants to join forces to tackle one of the biggest challenges of the coming decades: i.e. feeding the world's growing population. To this end, they are currently organising the International Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge together for the 3rd time.
The first edition focused on the autonomous cultivation of cucumbers. Last year's Challenge was all about the automated cultivation of tomatoes and this year's is focused on lettuce.
Multidisciplinary: Innovation is something you do together
Tencent and the WUR are challenging experts in the field of artificial intelligence and horticulture to work on the remote cultivation of lettuce in a greenhouse, without human intervention. The initial focus will be on image recognition algorithms for machines to assess the health and growth phase of the lettuce plants. The second focus will be on self-learning control systems for climate and lighting facilities in the greenhouse.
Right now, 18 teams have already signed up, mostly composed of experts from different fields and/or worlds. It is going to be another tough challenge, which will require true cooperation, in which coming up with new solutions may well prove to be the deciding factor.
I have a tip for all participants to get them off to a flying start. Don't forget to look at what other bright minds have already invented. You can do this, among other things, by going through the patent literature, free of charge. There are four older patent families, for example, in the name of Iron Ox Inc. that all focus on aspects of an autonomous greenhouse for growing lettuce.
And if by any chance you are unable to find these patent families, just give me a call and I will be happy to give you a hand, because it is only fair that everyone should have an equal opportunity.
Rudi Riemens writes BL&G's for Goedemorgen Groente.