January 30, 2023
Anu, previously gropod, awarded nearly $1 million competitive grant from the National Science Foundation
Phase II SBIR grant will provide seed funding for R&D and commercialization
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Heliponix LLC, doing business as anu™ (previously gropod®), has been awarded a Phase II National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $970,993 and $75,000 in matching funding from Elevate Ventures.
Anu will continue its research and development work on multispectral photomorphogenesis that is now being deployed in conjunction with deep-learning, computer-vision algorithms within its novel rotary aeroponic cultivation chambers. It was previously awarded an NSF SBIR Phase I grant of $256,000, in addition to $50,000 in matching funding from Elevate Ventures. An online video shows the technology in use.
Anu was established six years ago by two undergraduate students in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute who were working on a NASA-funded research study at Purdue University. The research sought to optimize the photosynthetic efficiency of growing lettuce in a controlled-environment hydroponic chamber for astronauts to grow crops more efficiently in space. By manipulating the spectrum of LED light on the lettuce plants, the research team, led by Cary Mitchell, a professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture, saw an increase in yields while simultaneously reducing the system’s energy consumption.
Research team members Scott Massey and Ivan Ball, co-founders of anu, saw an opportunity to further increase yields and minimize energy consumption. Their innovative design, called the Rotary Aeroponic™ Cultivation Chamber, which has multiple patents pending, produces higher yields through its novel mechanical design coupled with a novel control algorithm facilitated through proprietary cloud software.
“Through decentralized, in-home production of produce, the wasteful inefficiencies and environmental destruction attributed to industrialized agriculture are eliminated, while simultaneously delivering maximum freshness, flavor and nutritional value directly to consumers conveniently,” said anu CEO Massey. “Produce is harvested when consumers are hungry rather than everything being harvested at the same time, which requires preservation of the produce. It simply stays alive and fresh until it’s eaten. The anu team is now composed of more than 20 team members and continues to rapidly grow.”
Massey said the Phase I SBIR grant from the NSF supported anu’s “light recipe” research to maximize plant growth yields, nutritional content and energy efficiency within the proprietary Rotary Aeroponic Cultivation Chambers.
“We are now deploying those discoveries into our Phase II deep-learning, computer-vision system to commercialize an autonomous cultivation system for consumers to sustainably eliminate their dependency on grocery stores for eligible produce varieties without preexisting horticultural knowledge required,” Massey said. “Our ‘Keurig for plants’ commercialization strategy empowers consumers to grow their own Pure Produce® that is more food safe, free of any pesticides and/or preservatives, and has much less environmental impact than industrial agriculture. This accomplishment is a giant leap forward as this century's Victory Gardens will unite to become the world’s largest farm without owning a single acre of land.”
As a leader in tunable horticultural research lighting systems, the Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications (LESA) Center of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has and continues to work with Anu to provide research-grade, multispectral, tunable LED modules and associated programmable control systems compatible with Heliponix’s rotary chamber. These modules are based on the LESA Center’s TIGER horticulture research lighting modules and will provide the research flexibility needed in Phase II to optimize the LED illumination impact on plant growth variables in leafy greens including biomass, crop yield, nutritional content and energy efficiency.
“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, division director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”
Once a small business is awarded a Phase II SBIR/STTR grant, up to $1 million, it becomes eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.
Startups or entrepreneurs who submit a three-page Project Pitch will know within three weeks if they meet the program’s objectives to support innovative technologies that show promise of commercial and/or societal impact and involve a level of technical risk. Small businesses with innovative science and technology solutions, and commercial potential are encouraged to apply. All proposals submitted to the NSF SBIR/STTR program, also known as America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, undergo a rigorous merit-based review process. To learn more about America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, visit: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/
About the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Center
The LESA Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is a graduated National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center. LESA is an interdisciplinary, R&D center developing “Systems that Think.™” It is dedicated to developing autonomous intelligent systems to address modern challenges in the built environment, including controlled environment agriculture (CEA). To learn more please visit lesa.rpi.edu.
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit www.rpi.edu.
About Purdue University
Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last five years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://stories.purdue.edu.
About the National Science Foundation's Small Business Programs
America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.75 million to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.
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