This post is part of our Future of Agriculture series in which we interview the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
The following is an interview we recently had with Blake Burris, CEO of Colorado-based smart sensor startup, flux.
1. What’s the history of flux? Where and how did you begin?
BB: The idea started in Israel, a country that has defied the odds in terms of water reuse, farming the desert, and importing cutting-edge sensors in image processing and AI into greenhouse science. Our founder had started a leading news organization in the space and noticed that most of these fields were converging all back to the same big business that is now causing a lot of environmental stress and unrest (i.e., chemical companies) and we wanted to create a paradigm shift in the way data, tools and harvest can get back into the hands of the farmers, even if today’s and tomorrow’s farmers will be high-tech ones.
In general there is very much good will on the side of scientists and environmental activists and impact businesses to enact change, but very little reporting and data collection going on about industrial pollutants, plastics in our seas, pesticides on our tomatoes. We all know that the problems persist and are getting worse but there is no accountability in the system for the big polluters to be held responsible for what they do. We want to reverse the tables so that everyday people have in their hands the tools to report problems, but also to solve them. So, if a young scientist in Africa for instance has heard a theory that cattle grazing can actually reverse deforestation, we want her to have tools in her hands that can prove it. So that it’s no longer conjecture. So that you don’t need to have a PhD in forestry to have your voice heard and actions taken seriously. Our field system MICO can do that.
2. What specific problem does flux solve? How do you solve it?
BB: Flux enables sharing of useful plant, water and livestock data without borders. Using the blockchain, the unbanked can use this system as long as they have a phone on which they are able to interact with the Flux Protocol.
Having an Open Sensor Protocol addresses several problems, including increasing the quality of produce through harvesting at a level of verification currently not available. Sharing this data enables trade and knowledge-sharing, which can have a tremendous impact in areas where sustenance farmers' lives literally depend on a successful harvest.
We want to create a prosperous future for all. We provide low-cost cutting edge smart farming and forestry tools to improve yields, quality and flavors while absolutely cutting down environmental destruction.
We connect cutting-edge data collection sensors in image processing, nano-sensing (chemical), third party, and out own and connect this raw data to decentralized intelligence. Flux provides a platform for building solutions in a goal-focused manner; as an example, to increase fish yield while decreasing grey water pollution. Or to grow redder tomatoes using insights from 3,000 research institutes. Anyone that submits know-how and experience becomes part of the solution and reaps rewards for that contribution.
3. What’s the future of smart sensors in agriculture?
Prediction #1: Government entities will begin using sensor data with the blockchain as a way to verify suppliers are in compliance and they will find it much more effective than spot-checking.
Prediction #2: Produce suppliers will realize the benefits to their supply chain of combining sensor data with the Blockchain to capture food quality and narrow down recalls, limiting losses.
Prediction #3: Pest and disease detection accounts for billions in losses each year. This is an epidemic which can be addressed through sensor monitoring and image processing for early detection and limiting of losses. Wheat alone in the US accounts for $5B of losses each year.
Sensors that feed data into decentralized data platforms will proliferate; no more mega corps owning earth data exclusively.
Solutions for the unbanked, or base of the pyramid; most farming is done on this world on small family plots. The 3 billion underserved people will be better served by local and decentralized solutions which cater to local and regional contexts, much like Nokia's approach with handsets unique to the developing world's needs.
Extremely cutting-edge sensors from the military getting scaled down to be affordable and run through a smartphone, i.e., algorithmic-based image processing.
4. What are the top 3 technologies trends you’re seeing in smart sensor-related agriculture tech?
Technology #1: Image processing for disease and pest detection.
Technology #2: Sensor integration from satellites down to sensing minutiae in the field. This requires a lot of algorithmic insight.
Technology #3: Applying machine learning to better understand the language of not only plants, but the entire ecosystem around them. There is an old saying that a farmer doesn’t farm for food, he farms to create better soil, with food as byproduct. We need more systems thinking in the business of Ag, and that’s what MICO and the FLUX Platform can provide.
5. Why is the agriculture (spec. smart sensor-related) industry ripe for disruption?
The data is not in flux, it's siloed and is not communicating between siloes owned by a handful of multinationals.
About 70% of the farmers in this world grow on family plots. There is virtually no data on yields, productivity, growing medium etc.
It is a market worth trillions.
It is a social imperative; we have no choice if we want to feed a planet swelling to 10 billion in the next few decades. An even more compelling reason to disrupt this market is the opportunity to unlock a future of abundance for all and especially the billions underserved by current political and economic forces.
About Blake Burris
Blake Burris is the CEO of flux, a Colorado-based company which applies Israeli military sensors, AI software, and the sharing economy to help anyone access controlled-environment agriculture. The IoT solution includes novel sensors and artificial intelligence, and and is now unlocking realms of new data to the world of AgTech. Burris comes from the worlds of mobility and data, and is always on the frontier of new markets and mobilizing community around emerging products. He was the first to access capital from Facebook’s fbFund, and is the author of “The Smartup Manifesto” defining opportunities where big data, sensors, urban tech and the sharing economy collide.