What’s inside an AI company that disrupted the salmon farming industry with a technological breakthrough and six million dollars in its first external round of fundraising?
Aquaculture Magazine spoke with Al Brenner (Chairman) and Stian Rognlid (CEO) about the arrival of this company on the map of the global aquaculture industry, who they are, where they come from, what they do, and what contribution they will make to the development of the aquaculture world.
And you know what… they really do come with great technical offerings.
Aquaculture Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about your company and the type of technology you are bringing to the aquaculture industry?
Al Brenner (Chairman): Aquaticode was launched by Nacre Capital, which in turn was founded by Moti Shniberg, a successful serial entrepreneur and inventor in the AI space. Nacre Capital specializes in machine vision technologies in the life sciences.
Other portfolio companies include FDNA, which detects rare diseases in children, SeedX, which predicts whether a seed will germinate or not, and Fairtility, which increases the success of IVF.
We looked at several sectors and quickly realized there was a sizable opportunity within aquaculture. The industry is growing, but there are biological barriers to efficiency and growth. We also saw an industry that we think is important to decreasing the exploitation of the planets resources.
The oceans are dying. We believe that aquaculture is the only viable solution.
Aquaculture Magazine: How did you guys get into the salmon aquaculture business and how did you figure out where the opportunities were?
Al Brenner (Chairman): The first thing we did was talk to the market, try to understand the needs, and plan a proof-of-concept to see if our AI and machine vision capabilities could solve significant challenges in the industry.
We developed our first set of solutions for the sector and saw that the industry had a genuine interest in innovation. This has led to us launching our two products in September. Both can identify the sex of juvenile salmon using non-invasive methods.
The big question is: Can you produce significant results? We want to bring real commercial solutions to the market. I am not interested in telling stories just to create a buzz, which is why we largely have stayed out of the public eye – until now.
Aquaculture Magazine: So, we can say that you are a company that provides AI solutions for the aquaculture industry, and you want to focus on salmon and shrimp.
Stian Rognlid (CEO): Our core competency is machine learning, but we can develop both sofware and hardware. One of the products we are launching can sort up to 10,000 fish per hour. So that mechanical side – the muscle that does what our brain tells it to do – is also very important.
If you look at our organizational chart, you will see that we are rigged to deliver on our promises to the market. We have a strong base of technologists within AI research and engineering as well as automation, aquaculture, and product development expertise. They have the capability and drive to get things done.
Aquaculture Magazine: When you talk about shrimp aquaculture industry, have you already identified some areas where you can work on it?
Al Brenner (Chairman): In shrimp farming, the focus is different because the challenges are different. Diseases are widespread. So we focus on identifying the problem, the diagnostics side of things. Early detection and prediction give shrimp farmers decision tools to help combat the devastating effect of an outbreak.
Aquaculture Magazine: This will most likely be based on machine vision?
Al Brenner (Chairman): Yes, that is what we are talking about. Using machine vision for pathology. We have been researching this for more than 18 months now in collaboration with two large farmers, as well as a feed company.
Aquaculture Magazine: Do you think this AI tool could be ready early next year?
Stian Rognlid (CEO): I would say the first half of 2023, based on what we know right now. Shrimp is an important part of aquaculture, and we are putting considerable effort into creating something that we think will help the segment reach its potential. We are working to develop more accurate analysis, stronger predictions and ultimately improve decision making.
Aquaculture Magazine: Now, this is going to be a very interesting thing, you know, the industry is losing an enormous amount of money on disease. It’s a case of collapse. And that has always been up and down, up and down, up and down in a single situation of disease problems.
Developing tools to help growers easily and quickly identify diseases and find a solution could be very useful for the industry. How is this AI technology being received by the industry?
Stian Rognlid (CEO): The industry has an open mindset when it comes to technology. We are seeing a genuine drive to evolve – and that motivates us. The machines we are producing is a response to the demand we are seeing.
At the same time, we have several ongoing research partnerships. The recent fundraising round has given us leg room to both scale up, while accelerating our R&D activities. Earlystage companies can have a hard time balancing the short term need for pushing out products and the longer term need for innovation.
We are fortunate that we don’t have to choose one over the other. And that’s important, because the high impact breakthroughs will come from areas we have yet to consider. We need to keep pushing the limits. That’s why we are here.
Aquaculture Magazine: Are there other areas you are working on besides machine? Will you be looking into automation or any other technology?
Al Brenner (Chairman): It is a combination. We are a software company first. That’s in our DNA. But we also need to build hardware, and we have done that. We have created a high-speed sorting machine for the salmon industry that automate processes which are currently being performed.
Because we are a software company, we can launch something today and add significant functionality to it through over-theair updates. This includes functions that rely on miniscule patterns humans cannot detect.
Aquaculture Magazine: It is good to know what you are doing. I hope you will continue to grow. I think shrimp aquaculture is a very good opportunity for you, because in this industry, many processes need to be automated.
But it is difficult to standardize the technological tools in shrimp farms because they are developed in different production systems, in different geographical regions, each with very specific characteristics. This will be an interesting challenge for you.
Stian Rognlid (CEO): When it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence, diversity is important. You can develop a product that works well in a tank, pond, batch or even population, but because machine learning algorithms are inherently very sensitive, you need to be sure that you put in the work – and skill – to make it work in different production environments.
Salvador Meza is Editor & Publisher of Aquaculture Magazine