Intelligent horticultural light by OSRAM is conquering the world – and soon space too?

A small step for OSRAM, but possibly a giant leap for crewed spaceflight. OSRAM is equipping NASA with Phytofy RLs, its intelligent research lighting system for plant growth. The American space agency is using it to expand its research into food production during space missions.

The innovative research lighting system – a unique array of horticultural LEDs coupled with intelligent software – is now being used by NASA Food Production Research at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Scientists at the center are studying the ideal lighting conditions for the cultivation of lettuce and herbs for space crews. The insights gained on Earth serve as input for the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The space findings, in turn, are helping to improve the understanding of growth conditions on Earth.

“Many useful inventions in the world come from NASA researchers,” says Steve Graves, Strategic Program Manager of Urban & Digital Farming at OSRAM. “We are proud that our technology makes further innovations possible.”

On the road to the intelligent farm

The project with NASA is part of OSRAM’s global research facility network. Its common goal: The study of optimum plant growth conditions under digital light. The research, in turn, is a building block on OSRAM’s path to becoming the leading provider of smart farming solutions. “Our vision is the intelligent, automated farm of tomorrow,” says Timo Bongartz, head of Smart Farming at OSRAM. “To achieve this, we are working on a holistic system that extends beyond intelligent light management. The goal is the overall networking of plant cultivation.” Integrated sensors ensure ideal growth conditions: They regulate and control environmental factors such as light, temperature, humidity and CO2 content. Optical sensors monitor plant growth and health, while a central software platform links up the logistics chain, from the fertilizer to the harvesting machine and the buyer.

To realize this vision, OSRAM has successively expanded its market leadership in the field of horticultural LEDs through the addition of further system components, most recently by acquiring Fluence Bioengineering, one of the world’s leading providers of smart lighting in vertical farms and greenhouses. The U.S.-based company specializes in LED-based horticultural lighting, and has an extensive database of “lighting recipes.” The application spectrum ranges from lettuce and herbs to medicinal plants.

In addition, OSRAM recently acquired a stake in the Canadian startup “Motorleaf” through its venture capital arm, “Fluxunit.” The young Montreal company offers technologies for yield forecasting in greenhouses and indoor farms. It has developed one of the world’s first software and hardware solutions for this purpose: With artificial intelligence and machine learning, it can forecast the harvest yields for tomatoes, for example. This makes production more predictable and reduces the number of staff required to determine the harvest quantities.

However, a critical component of the integrated cultivation system comes from OSRAM: The new software platform for the Internet of Things, “Lightelligence.” “Our cloud-based platform will form the backbone of the system. It will be the basis for the sensor data analytics as well as for modeling plant growth and networking the logistics chain,” says Bongartz. Self-learning algorithms will use it in the future to create and optimize digital growth models. Platform partners such as supermarkets, online grocery stores and pharmaceutical companies can indicate their inventories in the system and in this way influence the growth speed in the greenhouses. “Considering the fact that approximately 40 percent of produce perishes between the growers and the supermarket shelves, the smart farming approach has a significant environmental aspect.”

Automatic improvement

The vison behind Lightelligence is the automated cultivation of plants in a controlled environment. Whether vertical farm or smart greenhouse, the goal is to make food production as resource efficient and close to the consumer as possible. For farmers, the smart farming approach means efficient use of production resources and real-time planning. This will bring a lot of changes to their working day in the future (see info box). The system will assist them in making decisions, such as which fertilizer to use, or in determining harvest dates. Tasks such as crop inspections will be largely eliminated. And, last but not least, they will benefit from the artificial intelligence and learn together with the system. “The data collected in “Lightelligence” also will allow them to benefit from the experience of countless other growers and researchers,” says Bongartz. “We have put the ingredients for fulfilling this vision together, and our next step will be to combine them into one system.” Which, in this case, will be a giant leap – both for OSRAM and for the plant cultivation of the future.

A day in the life of Frank, the urban digital farmer of the future

With "Osiris", OSRAM's artificial intelligence farming manager

6:00 a.m.

Before he gets up, Frank has a look at his mobile phone. He would like to see how things went last night. He opens the dashboard of his Osiris application. It displays a reduced demand forecast for mint for the coming week. The lighting in Sector 7 has been modified to prolong the growth cycle for this batch. Fungal growth has been discovered in Sector 3. He decides to have a look at this later, but starts the UV treatment program now.

6:30 a.m.

During breakfast, he checks his tablet to see how his new blackberry plants are coming along. Osiris shows him the health status of the test plants, which are being irradiated by different lighting recipes. The farm computer has experimented with Frank’s original growth recipe. Some batches are obviously not doing well, but Osiris learns as much from its failures as from its successes.

7:00 a.m.

On his way to the farm, Frank plans the day ahead. Osiris informs him of the top priority tasks: Quality control of today’s tomato harvest and the inspection of the mildew infestation. Frank reaches the farm, a long industrial building. From his office he looks over long aisles. They are lined with ceiling-high shelving on which lettuce, vegetables and fruit are growing, bathed in different colors of light. Displays on the shelves provide information on the status of each batch, and also on light, water, climate, fertilizer, seeds and harvest plans.

8:00 a.m.

Frank grabs his augmented reality goggles and sets off for the shelves. One machine needs to be serviced. Osiris leads Frank to the defective device. Frank reads the repair instructions from his goggles.

9:30 a.m.

Harvest sampling: Frank checks the tomato harvest planned by Osiris for the next day. He tests the appearance, taste and firmness of the tomatoes, and reports his findings to Osiris: The tomatoes are perfect. Osiris saves the success data in the system. Frank checks the progress of the UV treatment in Sector 3: According to Osiris, the mildew growth already has been reduced by 83 percent. Based on earlier experiences, Osiris suggests continuing the UV treatment for another two days.

11:00 a.m.

Back in his office, Frank goes through the current sales and order status. He manages the distribution channels via the integrated customer portal, and decides on the order flows. As a result of the orders from the previous day, the bean harvest is almost sold out. The system recommendation: To donate what is left to a charity organization.

2:00 p.m.

Osiris has analyzed the consumption data of the supermarkets. Eggplant appears to be popular at the moment. A check of the production capacities shows that it is more efficient to harvest the lettuce in Sector 10 earlier than planned and then use the freed-up areas to cultivate eggplant. Frank has Osiris accelerate growth by adapting the light and increasing the amount of fertilizer.

4:00 p.m.

Osiris has analyzed the blackberry recipe experiment. It has identified the best light recipe for fast plant growth and sweetness.

5:30 p.m.

Frank gathers up his belongings and drives home, secure in the knowledge that his plants are continuing to thrive through the night in automatic mode.