On rooftops, patios and green walls, hydroponics — a way to grow plants in nutrient-enriched water, with no soil — has taken root as a way for city dwellers and others to grow their own food.
But some aspiring horticulturists, lacking a green thumb, still find this method of nurturing plants beyond them.
Enter Israeli startup Flux.
The Dallas, Texas-based company, which has an R&D center in Israel, has developed the Eddy — a plastic computing device the size of a large orange, that sits in the water of a hydroponic garden or farm and senses vital chemical parameters of the environment.
By interacting with lighting, humidity and other sensors, the computer studies the changing balance of the chemistry in the water, sends information to the Flux server, and provides instant feedback via an app about what is needed.
In addition, like the driving app Waze, Eddy can use input from other users to guide garden owners to the herbs best suited to their neighborhood and weather, and sends alerts in real time to users’ phone about when to feed their plants and what other things need to be done, and how.
Eddy also helps connect users to a network of food gardeners around the world, allowing them to share tips and wisdom about harvests. If you want to share your strawberries or to start a farmer’s market, Eddy offers you the chance to tap into a network of other sustainable growers and farmers.
“This is almost a magical way to solve problems in food,” said Flux founder Karin Kloosterman in a phone interview. “You can’t tell 25-year olds to study chemistry. But we can tell them what to do — like adjust the pH of their crop by adding two drops of pH buffers to create the optimal liquid environment for their plants to grow.”
The product was developed by an Israeli army veteran, Flux chief technology officer Amichai Yifrach, and is based on artificial intelligence and image processing technology that was developed to uncover data that the eye cannot see, to guard security perimeters from infiltrators and terrorists.
“We see the future of food as a personalized market,” said Kloosterman. “People will start growing food to suit their own needs, in an organic and efficient way. To do that they must learn to listen to the language of plants.”
“This is not just about helping New Yorkers grow kale or heirloom tomatoes on their rooftops,” she said. “Our vision is to help feed people, make a dent on the food system that is dying.”
The company is targeting the commercial launch of the product for December and Kloosterman said distributors from 23 countries have already ordered the product, which will be priced around $150. Even so, the US, which has a home and gardening market of around $36 billion, is the company’s prime target at the moment, though China is also in its sights.
“China is the tipping point. With 1.4 billion people, and zero transparency about the toxins in their fresh food, the Chinese are scared stiff about the heavy metals like cadmium and lead in their agricultural lands outside major city centers,” she said. ” We are working with a number of companies now on establishing a joint venture and a Flux office in China.”