Look up or down the food supply chain, and you’ll see an increasing use of technology. Dairy production is no different, where farmers are relying more on modern technology to optimize their milk output.
Perhaps the biggest lever dairy farmers can pull in creating better output is making sure dairy cow inputs – aka feed – is highly optimized. This is where Consumer Physics come in. That’s right, the company behind the somewhat controversial SCiO handheld near-infrared spectrometer has partnered with one of the world’s biggest food commodity conglomerates in Cargill to create a scanner that uses the same technology to analyze cattle forage – the corn silage and haylage fed to milk cows – for the amount of dry matter.
So what is dry matter and why does it matter?
Dry matter is the amount that remains after water is removed. It matters to farmers because the amount of dry matter in feed has a significant impact on milk production.
According to Shane St. Cyr, Cargill Strategic Dairy Services and Technology Scout for Cargill, changes in the dry matter means changes to “the ration. Cows may be getting too many nutrients which may not be a health or production risk, but it can certainly impact the bottom line. On the other hand, if the ration doesn’t match what we think is being fed to the cows, they may have a nutritional loss, and a cow can’t physically eat enough to make up for it.”
For Consumer Physics, this move into big ag is further validation for a company that continues to have skeptics. The reason for doubters is a canceled Kickstarter page that is a is a result of naming dispute with SCIO Health Analytics. Because of their Kickstarter struggles, some have called the company’s technology “too good to be true.”
Here’s the thing, though: Not only did the company finally ship its handheld food scanner to backers and has legitimate intellectual property that’s been validated by the issuance of US patents, but they keep partnering with large, established companies like Cargill and Analog Devices. These size companies would likely not launch a product without doing their due diligence.
I caught up with the CEO of Consumer Physics, Dror Sharon, who told me this latest deal is part of the company’s strategy to push the SCiO platform further up the food chain and into a wider set of products and applications. Fueling this move is the company’s app developer kit, which they released last year and, according to Sharon, is now in the hands of three thousand developers.
And while the company is working with everyone from agricultural health to mobile phone makers to get SCiO tech built directly into devices, Sharon sees the home appliance market – in particular, the kitchen appliance market – as the lynchpin for mass market adoption.
“The mass consumer strategy is to get it embedded into kitchen appliances,” Sharon told me. “Smart stoves, smart blenders, smart ovens, smart refrigerators. Anything that makes sense to have this sensing capability in it.”
He said that having SCiO technology could not only help consumers better understand the freshness of food as well as its nutritional content but also help them to reorder the type of food “that doesn’t have bar codes on it.”
“It will help you reorder the kind of apples you like.”
While Sharon didn’t say exactly when we can expect to see SCiO built into appliances, he did say Haier, a Chinese appliance conglomerate, showed off a proof of concept of a fridge with the SCiO technology in March. The Haier news came just months after French manufacturer Terraillon announced they would build the SCiO technology into their Nutrismart scale.
So as the company continues to build credibility through more deals with established partners and to add commercial use cases to its application list, it also looks like it is slowly but surely pushing its technology towards the consumer kitchen.