Article by Dr. Patrick Wspanialy
Celebrating its one-year anniversary, Horteca has established itself as a pivotal platform propelling the Ag-Tech sphere into a new era.
Before diving into the Horteca story, let me briefly introduce myself. I’m Patrick Wspanialy, Ecoation's director of research and development. My role involves exploring the field of nascent technologies and investigating various industries and academic realms to discover breakthroughs that have the potential to transform the greenhouse industry and provide substantial advantages to our clients.
After earning my Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, I specialize in machine learning and computer vision for my Master's degree at the University of Guelph. Vision plays a vital role in the human experience, shaping our understanding of the world and enabling us to interact with it seamlessly; similarly, computer vision, with its ability to process and interpret visual data, has the potential to revolutionize work and play, offering new levels of productivity and immersive experiences.
The University of Guelph is recognized for its excellence in agricultural studies, which made it an ideal place for integrating computer vision with greenhouse automation. I had the privilege to collaborate with Professor Medhat Moussa, the driving force behind GIGAS, or the Guelph Intelligent Greenhouse Automation System during my Master's and Ph.D. programs. My doctorate research further broadened my knowledge by incorporating computer vision and mobile robotics. I am fortunate and grateful to have discovered Ecoation, a company where my experience and enthusiasm align so well.
Horteca and Ecoation share a symbiotic relationship. Horteca is our premier testing ground, providing a secure environment to experiment without encroaching on our customers' valuable time and space.
Assessing a product's efficacy within a greenhouse demands a faithful replication of commercial greenhouse conditions, including aspects like temperature regulation, light modification, and plant interactions. Most research greenhouses, even those staffed by dedicated individuals, often fall short of reproducing these precise conditions prevalent in commercial settings due to the lack of specialized training and expertise.
Establishing a research greenhouse with the capabilities of a commercial facility requires a two-fold commitment. The initial phase of securing funds and constructing the facility might be achievable. However, the subsequent phase of maintaining it - ensuring appropriate staffing and ongoing operations - can be a significantly more complex and demanding task.
The primary focus of Horteca is to validate near-market-ready products. It's the ideal arena to transition from a laboratory to a full-scale production greenhouse with real-life operational challenges. Horteca provides ample data to compile an influential whitepaper, assuring growers of your system's credibility. It grants the opportunity to demonstrate that your idea has been successfully tested in a real-world greenhouse setting, not just in the lab.
At Horteca, our aim is to bridge this divide. Our facility is not only fully built and equipped but also boasts a dedicated team maintaining your experimental space. Our committed staff ensures the smooth execution of projects without burdening the grower.
One of our flagship projects that went through rigorous testing and refinement at Horteca is Ecoation's ROYA. ROYA is designed to be the ultimate IPM (integrated pest management) scouting and yield forecasting tool. Equipped with a plant health sensor, 360-degree virtual walk capabilities, climate and light sensors, and automatic row-shifting, ROYA exemplifies cutting-edge technology. It was a privilege to contribute significantly to its development and testing through our work at Horteca.
The idea of automation in greenhouses is not new; however, realizing it has been a challenge. That's why the emergence of technology like ROYA will be so impactful.
Our collaboration with Bogaerts, a worldwide frontrunner in greenhouse cart production, significantly expedited the development and testing of new product categories. Bogaerts is renowned for its quality carts designed for greenhouse operations like scouting and spraying. Our combined technological capabilities facilitated the creation of ROYA, a groundbreaking innovation with the potential to transform the landscape of greenhouse operations.
None of this would have been achievable without Horteca.
As Horteca reaches its first milestone, we are excited to reflect on our accomplishments and anticipate future endeavours. We have numerous ongoing projects that could revolutionize the greenhouse industry. We remain committed to testing and perfecting them to their maximum potential.
Ultimately, our goal is to position Horteca as the pivotal destination for anyone aspiring to translate their Agtech visions into tangible solutions.