Iddo Geltner – Arugga AI – Ep 30

Iddo Geltner, Co-Founder & CEO at Arugga AI

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” we’re joined by Iddo Geltner from Arugga AI, who we will be talking to about how their autonomous pollination robots are helping combat employee challenges within the farming industry.


[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hello, and welcome to” Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain.

Today on our show I’m joined by Iddo Geltner from Arugga AI, who I’ll be talking to about how their autonomous pollination robots are helping combat employee challenges within the farming industry.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Well, thanks for joining me on the podcast Iddo. How are you?

[00:00:27] Iddo Geltner: Hi, Mitch. I’m fine. Uh, it’s great to be here.

[00:00:30] Mitchell Denton: It’s great to have you on. Before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do, and maybe a fun fact about yourself.

[00:00:39] Iddo Geltner: Okay. Uh, I’m Iddo Geltner co-founder and CEO of Arugga. My background is actually physics and computer science. Uh, I did PhD in the US studying laser interaction with the matter. And after that, I had a long tenure in managing R & D of a medical device company, where we developed a product to reduce, repeat surgeries in breast cancer.

[00:01:03] Mitchell Denton: Wow.

[00:01:04] Iddo Geltner: And, uh, that was, uh, previous part of my career before I joined, uh, the AgTech community. So, Arugga is my first tenure, my first venture in AgTech.

[00:01:14] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. And what about that fun fact of yours?

[00:01:18] Iddo Geltner: Well, it’s fun for me. I make my own alcohol at home. I make beer.

I uh, distill alcohol from all kinds of fruits, depending on the, uh, on the season.

So, uh, that’s one of my, uh, hobbies.

[00:01:32] Mitchell Denton: That’s great. How long have you been doing that for?

[00:01:34] Iddo Geltner: Oh, quite a few years. Maybe five, six.

[00:01:37] Mitchell Denton: Okay. That’s great. You, you’ve got it down to a fine art now. It’s, it’s pretty good stuff you’re making?

[00:01:42] Iddo Geltner: Oh yeah. My friends enjoy it.

[00:01:46] Mitchell Denton: Good to know. Good to know. Continuing on from you telling us what you do. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about the pollination robot Poly and how your innovative technology works?

[00:01:56] Iddo Geltner: Okay. So maybe we’ll talk a little bit in more detail later about greenhouse farming and tomatoes and, and how they reach our shelf. 

But The first step for any fruit is a good pollination.

It’s like, that sets the, uh, potential of the fruit, how big it is, how tasty it is. So in tomatoes, it’s kind of a unique pollination for nature.

The flower pollinates itself. Uh, it’s like kind of, uh, I know if that’s good for the pot, it’s like kind of marrying your twin sister, right? Uh, so, so nature doesn’t want that. 

But, we are not eating natural tomatoes. These are not tomatoes that, develop throughout history.

They are, uh, developed by humans, right? By selection, processes, and other processes. So the tomato that we eat today, grown in greenhouses is self-pollinating, but they do not pollinate almost spontaneously.

They need an accurate vibration, a calibrated vibration to release the pollen on the stigma, the female organ.

So, when tomatoes were still grown in the field, it was done by the wind and insects, but then, uh, when they were, uh, inserted into greenhouses, these were not available. 

So people developed all kinds of, mechanical methods to vibrate the flowers. And about 30 years ago, they introduced bumble bees. 

So, uh, these bees that were reared in factories, they were sent to the growers and placed inside the greenhouses. But we’re doing the first automated robotic pollination robot.

[00:03:26] Mitchell Denton: That’s great. 

[00:03:27] Iddo Geltner: Which is intended for, greenhouse tomatoes. So the robot drives autonomously down the rows of the, plants.

It has cameras on the, both sides and, uh, using AI based computer vision, it detects flowers that are ready for pollination, with the visual cues, the, the flowers look in a very specific manner when they’re ready for pollination. And then once it detects those flowers, it sends air pulse. To vibrate, the flowers.

These are carefully calibrated air pulses in terms of duration and frequencies and pressure, uh, in order to get this optimal pollination and set a high, uh, potential for all these fruits.

[00:04:06] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. You, you mentioned some of the other pollination methods that have been used previously. what would you say separates Poly from other pollination practices within the food industry?

[00:04:18] Iddo Geltner: So in terms of, uh, good pollination, because you can pollinate tomato flowers using, uh, kind of blowers, right? But these don’t give good results because they’re not calibrated in accurate air vibration.

[00:04:28] Mitchell Denton: Mm-hmm 

[00:04:29] Iddo Geltner: So, other methods which are, you know, give a good yield and, and taste are usually using contact either by, uh, vibrating the plants using vibrators or using the bees, which touch every flower, 

[00:04:44] Mitchell Denton: Hmm. 

[00:04:44] Iddo Geltner: Our robot does not touch the flowers. So it drives along the roads and sends air pulses to. To the flowers without touching them. This prevents spread of viruses and diseases.

And again, it’s the first robotic pollinator for greenhouse tomatoes. We know of all kinds of developments, not necessarily for pollination of tomatoes, but there are all kinds of companies working on improving pollination, we’re the first commercial one.

[00:05:08] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. No, that’s cool. That’s really exciting stuff. Are there any future modules or applications for Arruga’s technology?

[00:05:16] Iddo Geltner: Ah sure. My partner Eytan Heller, in founding the company, he coined it. We wanna be the “Swiss Army Knife for the tomato grower”. 

So we, we intend to introduce, uh, additional modules on the robot. It’s a relatively large ground robot, so it can carry quite a lot of weight. So, uh, we want to eventually have, even five, six modules on the robot.

Some of them for monitoring the plants and detecting pests and disease very early on, treating them. But, some are, uh, especially directed to, uh, reduce the labour cost and dependence of the grower. 

This is the number one major challenge of growers around the world in agriculture in general and specifically in greenhouses where the labour cost is the highest amongst the, uh, various agricultural sectors.

So we intend to kind of, approximately every year, release a module that places a specific task in the greenhouse. And there are quite a lot of them.

[00:06:16] Mitchell Denton: Mm, mm. That’s real exciting. So then what would you say is the biggest challenge your team has encountered so far with your innovative products and how did you overcome it?

[00:06:26] Iddo Geltner: I think that, while growers are very open to innovation and they seek methods and they have huge problems, in agriculture there are huge problems. They, uh, want to see it working and specifically in pollination where you pollinate a flower today and you see the final results in about a two months time, or it takes about eight weeks for the tomato to completely grow and, and, uh, become ripe and ready for, uh, harvest. 

So the, uh, trials are relatively long. And they’re not simple. You need to take care of all kinds of factors affecting the growth of the tomatoes and trialing your robot versus bees or manual methods that exist out there that the growers use and, and compare the results eventually after a few months.

So these are, are costly and long. 

[00:07:16] Mitchell Denton: Hmm. 

[00:07:16] Iddo Geltner: And, uh, they can be affected by all kinds of factors like, uh, weather or diseases. So it’s, it’s a challenge.

[00:07:25] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. You were saying at the start that your background isn’t necessarily in AgTech. So I was just wondering, now entering the AgTech industry, what’s the biggest revelation you’ve uncovered.

[00:07:38] Iddo Geltner: So, uh, we had many revelations discovered many things, but I think, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, growers on the one hand have huge problems, so they are open to innovation.

It was surprising. My, my initial conception was that growers, they don’t like technology. They wanna stick with what they know, but growers around the world in many, many places, very open to technology and want to hear about it.

They, they eventually wanna see it work properly and fit into their operation, but they’re very open to hearing, to meeting, to testing. I was very happy to learn that

[00:08:15] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely. Yeah. A lot of collaboration within the, AgTech industry. It’s really cool. So, from where you stand, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points in the food industry?

[00:08:27] Iddo Geltner: So, from our viewpoint, labour, right? Labour is the number one problem that we hear from growers. It’s one of the biggest problems in agriculture in general, but most, uh, acutely in greenhouse farming. 

Because of unavailability, the cost is rising constantly. And the fact that, nobody wants to work in agriculture means that you don’t have enough workers to complete the task that you need.

So that reduces your, uh, yield, your quality. And that hurts the bottomline.

[00:08:58] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Well, hopefully your Swiss army robot will um, help fill the gaps a little bit.

[00:09:02] Iddo Geltner: Yeah, ours and others and, uh, step by step. Yeah.

[00:09:05] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely. So has the COVID pandemic for better or worse, had any effect on your day-to-day operations?

[00:09:12] Iddo Geltner: So on one hand, COVID uh, even stressed further the need for automation and solutions like ours because of problems with labour

[00:09:21] Mitchell Denton: mm.

[00:09:21] Iddo Geltner: We didn’t have a large effect from COVID it was, uh, stressful at the beginning, you know, the first few months to see how things are gonna go, especially in terms of work conditions and fundraising. 

But, the best, the best part of COVID is that we were able to do a pilot with an Australian grower without even flying to Australia.

So, we planned to start a pilot in April of 2020. And, uh, when the skies closed in March, we realised that we couldn’t go there.

And so we got a lot of help from the grower’s technical team, because they were very anxious to see our robots working and, and thought they could solve a lot of their labour issues. We also found two local guys, who were extremely helpful and knowledgeable in, uh, we sent them two robots, disassembled Arruga-bots.

They managed to assemble them, test them and, and operate the whole pilot by themselves with our assistance, but from far away.

[00:10:17] Mitchell Denton: That’s fantastic. So when it comes to food loss and sustainable farming, what’s the biggest area your team is curious about and why?

[00:10:26] Iddo Geltner: In terms of sustainability, I think that we do use a lot of chemicals and water. And so these are challenges for all of agricultural sectors. So in general, greenhouse farming is, besides use of energy for heating, is a very sustainable way to grow crops because there’s much more kilograms per metre squared, a lot less use of water with probably 80 or 90% less water. 

And a lot less chemicals because it’s more, it’s a more protected environment. And so I think that keeping the plants healthy, you know, preventing pest and disease and stresses is probably the most important thing in terms of sustainability. 

Robots like ours, which drive along the plants every day. Uh with cameras and sensors, they can detect these stresses and pests and diseases early on when they just begin to set into the greenhouse. And so we can either alert the grower so he can, he or she can treat it at a very early stage before it hurts the plants and the yields.

And then the robots can eventually treat these problems immediately.

Also automating the treatment, reducing, uh, further the amount of chemicals and keeping yields high.

[00:11:44] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, fantastic. Continuing on this train of thought, is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

[00:11:53] Iddo Geltner: So of course we’re keeping an eye on, uh, all kinds of, uh, robotics for agriculture.

[00:11:59] Mitchell Denton: mm-hmm mm-hmm

[00:12:00] Iddo Geltner: interesting, not only in terms of technology or even, uh, competition. It’s interesting to see how they enter the market, how are they fitting into the environment? How do growers operate? In what ways?

It’s very, very interesting to know because, last few years are the first years that there are robotics in agriculture, in general.

There are very few companies out there which are commercial. And it’s very interesting to see this coming to life.

[00:12:26] Mitchell Denton: Yeah.

[00:12:27] Iddo Geltner: There are other, uh, projects around the world. I can mention also, uh, Google’s mineral project, uh, which is looking at long term solutions for sustainable agriculture and life on earth.

A lot of interesting stuff going on these days. 

[00:12:41] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. So, what’s one thing you wish you had known when you began your career in developing autonomous pollination tech?

[00:12:51] Iddo Geltner: On the one hand, there’s a lot I wish I knew, but then when I entered it, I knew that I know so little as I mentioned earlier. 

As this is our first venture into ag tech. The first person that we brought along was an agronomist, which is also a good friend of mine. So we learned, uh, a lot from him. And, uh, he’s now an integral part of the team and we’re bringing all the time, new team members, experts in their own fields.

The fact that we started without a lot of knowledge at the beginning was, uh, probably a drawback. But we did come with a fresh eye, critical eye on how things are being done. And I think it’s good and now that we’re almost six years in this project five years, uh, officially when we started the company.

So, um, it’s quite a long, uh, time already.

[00:13:40] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. I mean, starting out, I’m sure it was daunting, but like you were saying, having that fresh outsider perspective also has its positives as well. So that’s good. 

Well, unfortunately Iddo, we are coming to a close, but before we do, I just wanted to ask what is the major point you really want the listeners to take away from this episode?

[00:14:01] Iddo Geltner: I think the major point is not only related to Arugga and our solutions, but in the fact that there’s a huge challenge in terms of food production worldwide, right? People are talking about it a lot, but I’m not sure that people really understand how much effort is put into bringing just one tomato into the supermarket. 

So there are more and more people in the world, weather is becoming wacky and people don’t want to work in agriculture. If any of the listeners ever went into a greenhouse in the summer. 

I’m not sure that he or she will probably appreciate the fruits and vegetables on the shelf, but, uh, they won’t want to do the, the work. So, while we need to produce more food worldwide. It’s under more difficult conditions and, uh, labour shortage. 

And we need to grow it sustainably because until now we are ruining land, water reservoirs, and, uh, putting chemicals into the ground. So it’s, uh, it’s a huge challenge.

And automation is, uh, one of the solutions that are badly needed in this, ecosystem.

[00:15:07] Mitchell Denton: Definitely, I couldn’t agree more. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. 

Thanks for listening, and thank you Iddo for joining me today. 

[00:15:16] Iddo Geltner: And thank you for having me.

[00:15:17] Mitchell Denton: If you’d like to know more about Iddo and Arugga AI, check out the link in the description of the episode. 

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Until next time, you’ve been listening to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, a PostHarvest podcast.

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