• John Ennis

Eye on AI - August 2nd, 2019


Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence.

This week, we delve into how automation is continuing to affect the restaurant industry, then expand on our ongoing discussion about precision farming with new news on automation and plant disease identification.


Restaurant Robotics and Automation Making Waves:


Two interesting articles out of The Spoon this week on how robotics are transforming the restaurant industry. For starters, Bear Robotics recently released Penny 2.0, the second generation of the Penny restaurant service robot, adding to the many restaurant AI enhancement technologies recently introduced.


“Penny is among a wave of robots coming to restaurants in the near future,” writes Chris Albrecht, Managing Editor of The Spoon and an AI / food robotics specialist. “Flippy makes burgers and fries up chicken tenders, Dishcraft is still stealthily working on automating tasks in the kitchen, and there are entire establishments like Creator and Spyce built around robotic cooking systems.”


Penny 2.0 has been redesigned to carry an array of diverse food and drink combinations, is newly boosted with obstacle avoidance technology, and is available now on a subscription basis.


You can see Penny in action at the National Restaurant Association trade show this weekend, or hear more from John Ha, CEO of Bear Robotics, in the video below:



Next, the article “Uber Drones to Drop Fancy In-N-Haute Burgers on San Diego” outlines how Uber is testing the drone delivery market. Last week, it was released that Uber had begun testing fast food drone delivery services in San Diego. This week, they’ll be adding a limited amount of fine dining to the menu from Juniper and Ivy to see how the market takes to the higher and lower-priced foods.



“What will be most interesting about this test,” writes author Jennifer Marston; “is whether people will actually pay $21 (plus delivery fees and tip) to get a high-end burger delivered and, more important, if they’d do it on a regular basis. That’s presumably why Uber’s chosen to test its drone deliveries via two extremes: haute cuisine and fast food. Whichever is more successful… will tell Uber a lot about where to bet its hand in the upcoming drone delivery race.”

Drones will drop food off at set locations, – rather than store-to-doorstep – where Uber drivers will retrieve drops to deliver them to your door. Uber maintains that the 20+ minutes each drone delivery shaves off of across-city deliveries is well worth the complicated delivery operation.


Automation and Plant Disease ID Advances in Precision Farming:


Now let’s turn to Precision Farming, which we’ve been covering quite a bit here at Eye on AI – and with good reason.


First, news out of New Atlas describes how Rusagro, Russia's largest agricultural holding company, recently partnered with AI development firm Cognitive Technologies to pilot autonomous crop management in combine harvesters running over 665,000 hectares of land.


“The agreement calls for the system to be capable of safely operating autonomously over plowed or unplowed ground,” writes author Paul Ridden; “as well as mowed or unmowed fields, and take appropriate action when objects like other machines, trees, roads, animals and people are detected…. Human operators will be present in the cabins of the kitted out combines, but the self-driving system will allow them to focus on controlling harvesting systems.”


Within the next few years, Rusagro expects the system to be installed on all of its 800 combine harvesters. This is one of many dominoes I’ll be keeping my eye on in precision farming’s near future – should the pilot program prove successful and Rusagro moves forward with mass implementation, I expect smaller agriculture companies to quickly follow suit.


Next, let’s talk AI and crop disease identification. In the New York Times article, “A New Way to Fight Crop Diseases, With a Smartphone,” reporter Knvul Sheikh describes how researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a technology based on the science of subtle plant odors that can recognize sick plants early – particularly the late blight infection, responsible for the potato famine and over six billion dollars in crop loss annually – by employing a simple test strip that plugs into a reader on a smartphone.



“If the farmer suspects a late blight infection is underway,” writes Sheikh, “she can remove a leaf from a living plant and place it in a small, covered glass jar... the air is pumped from the jar into a reader device attached to the back of a smartphone. Inside the smartphone reader is a strip of paper specially treated… the strip changes color to indicate the presence or absence of the pathogen. It’s like a home-pregnancy kit for tomatoes, or a strep test for tubers.”

This kind of technology could completely change agriculture’s competitive landscape by giving small farmers access to technologies that had previously outpriced them. I’m excited to see how AI continues to integrate with the smartphone, giving general consumers access to technologies that had previously only been accessible by a few.


Other news:


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