Someday in the near future, the tomatoes grown in greenhouse farms may be harvested by a robot developed by a team of University of Pittsburgh students — a team whose early success stemmed from the vision of a former window company executive. That former CEO, Bob Randall, is a Pitt alumnus whose passion for entrepreneurship education is increasingly bearing fruit.
About half the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. today come from greenhouse farms, said Daniel Garcia, a senior neuroscience major at Pitt. He presented his well-honed, fact-filled elevator pitch to a full house at the 10th Annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition awards showcase.
In the protected greenhouse environment, tomatoes are nurtured under optimal conditions, but harvesting is painstaking, labour-intensive and expensive for this USD 2 billion industry. Labour is the biggest uncertainty.
“The costs are skyrocketing, and the availability is plummeting,” continued Garcia onstage at the Charity Randall Theatre on Pitt’s campus. “We’re using advancements in robotics and machine learning to provide analytics and automation to the greenhouse industry.”
Garcia, of Four Growers, is confident in the company’s automated solution that can identify and pick ripe tomatoes. The innovation is attracting the attention of the greenhouse industry. And the young innovators are attracting attention in student entrepreneurship competitions.
Team Four Growers is a product of Pitt’s student entrepreneurship programming, coordinated by the Innovation Institute. Before taking on the Big Idea Challenge, the teammates participated in Pitt’s Startup Blitz weekend and Blast Furnace student accelerator programme.
The team is a winner of a $25,000 grand prize. More about this…