Date: Nov 01, 2018
Magazine:
November/December 2018

Think Siri, but for agriculture.

When Bruce Rasa first conceptualized the idea of a speech-to-text data service powered by artificial intelligence, he knew that he wanted to design it with and for food and ag professionals. Growing up, Bruce always had both hands full while working on his family’s 4,000-acre farm in Missouri. His family grew corn, soybean, wheat, hay and apples, and taking notes while knee deep in the field never got easier.

“I know, first hand, how painful the record keeping demands of a farm can be,” said Rasa. “This was my inspiration for creating AgVoice.”

AgVoice is the world’s first voice and data management start-up company that allows ag professionals the freedom to work hands-free while on-the-go. Using proprietary analytics and processing of raw voice files, anyone in agriculture can conveniently and safely capture data when both hands are occupied.

The startup’s mobile voice-interaction service officially launched earlier this year, and the initial response has been positive. In October 2017, S2G Ventures deemed AgVoice’s technology so promising that the venture capital firm offered the startup $250,000 in equity investment during Western Growers’ AgSharks™ Competition.

“AgSharks was a game changer for us,” said Rasa. “We had never seen an event where agtech startups can gain access to significant seed capital so quickly. The vast majority of investors we meet don’t have a deep understanding of agriculture so to be on a stage, being groomed by the best in ag, made a massive difference in our growth and ability to deliver a stronger product.”

 

HOW THE TECHNOLOGY WORKS

For the preliminary rollout, AgVoice is targeting farming experts that support growers, such as agronomists, food safety inspectors, plant breeders and advanced research and development teams. So far, the agronomists and plant breeders who tested the system have reported that the technology allows them to survey up to 30 percent more crops per day. They are now able to complete 300 to 400 plot inspections a day, compared to the 200 to 300 previously. AgVoice can also save on costs. In the case of professional plant breeder teams, it turns a two-man job into a one-man effort.

“Some of our clients require two plant breeders to go out into the field. One person has both hands inspecting the produce while verbally citing the findings and results. The other is listening, taking notes and filling out required food safety check lists,” said Rasa. “Our voice-first design enables one person to do it all.”

The mobile voice-interaction service was designed to achieve four unique features:

1.  Recognize Food and Ag Terms: Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa were developed to help consumers and do not always properly translate commonly used words on the farm. The AgVoice service is created with a lexicon that is ag-centric and is able to decipher agricultural terms, names and niche words.

2.  No Connectivity Required: In many ag operations, internet and cloud connectivity is either non-existent or intermittent. AgVoice sees a future in which the service could run on a smartphone, in an offline mode, without connectivity to match the realities of the ever changing environments of food production and agriculture.

3.  Immediate Corrections: No speech recognition software is perfect. However, with important tasks such as recording food safety data, every single word must be correct. AgVoice recognizes this discrepancy and has designed a system (patent pending) that empowers users in the field to correct checklists and notes on the spot. The technology allows workers to easily identify if the information is not accurate and immediately correct the data using their voice or via manual editing on the screen as a backup—so it always works in any environment.

4. Ease of Use: AgVoice’s technology is a voice-first design. Users are able to open the app on their phone and navigate the service using solely their voice.

“We made it so both hands are always free. Users can leave the phone in their pocket and not have to interact with the system until their tasks are completed,” said Rasa. “If the user wants to use an optional, wearable device like a noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset, we also offer those. They are on the market for around $100.”

 

PRIVACY AND FOOD SAFETY ARE TOP OF MIND

As the technology is being refined, features to help comply with new food safety standards are continually being added. AgVoice understands that to effectively and efficiently comply with the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, proactive record keeping is a must. Prior to activating the technology, AgVoice works with clients to tailor the service to their needs. They meet with the specialists who will be using the service and build platforms and mandatory checklists based on their job requirements.

All information collected in the AgVoice service is completely protected unless the user chooses to share it. The “sharing” feature allows ag professional to easily share the completed checklists with teammates, company leadership and government regulators, among others.

“I’m a row crop kid from the Midwest who worked on my family’s farm day in and day out, so I understand how highly sensitive data can be,” said Rasa. “We guarantee that the speed and ease of capture and sharing is matched with the most secure privacy system.”

 

BREACHING THE SPECIALTY CROP SECTOR

A year and a half ago, AgVoice joined Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology in hopes of working with the specialty crop industry to customize the technology for fresh produce growers.

“Joining the Center has been such an educational experience,” said Rasa. “We have learned so much about the challenges facing specialty crop growers and are now even more committed to helping and supporting them. The size and scale of this unique, specialty crop network of Western Growers doesn’t exist at our home base in Georgia, so we are thrilled to be here in Salinas at the epicenter of innovation.”

Since joining the Center, AgVoice has had the opportunity to interact with WG members through numerous events such as WG’s Annual Meeting and AgTechx, a recently launched initiative that brings technologists to growers. Moving forward, they hope to advance their technology to the next level and serve all of agriculture by continuing to partner with staunch supporters who share their vision.

For more information about AgVoice or its speech-to-text service, contact Bruce Rasa at (770) 265-2499 or brasa@agvoiceglobal.com.

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