A team of four individuals, including an Indian American, have received a $25,000 prize for winning the 2018 Randall Family Big Idea Competition at Carnegie Mellon University, which was held by the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Charity Randall Theater, according to a press release.
Lead by Dan Chi, a University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering student, Four Growers; comprising of Rahul Ramakrishnan of CMU, Brandon Contino, Daniel Garcia and Jiangzi Li won the competition with the idea of automation of tomato harvesting in commercial greenhouses.
In the press release Garcia states that “about half the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. today come from greenhouse farms. In the protected greenhouse environment, tomatoes are nurtured under optimal conditions, but harvesting is painstaking, labor-intensive and expensive for this $2 billion industry.”
At the event, Garcia said that although “the costs are skyrocketing and the availability is plummeting, we’re using advancements in robotics and machine learning to provide analytics and automation to the greenhouse industry.”
The innovation is attracting the attention of the greenhouse industry.
Four Growers is a product of Pitt’s student entrepreneurship programming, coordinated by the Innovation Institute.
Before taking on the Big Idea Challenge, the teammates participated in Pitt’s Startup Blitz weekend and Blast Furnace student accelerator program.
This years’ competition marked the 10th anniversary and included the announcement of a $2 million donation from Pitt trustee Bob Randall and his family to establish the Big Idea Center at the Innovation Institute, supporting student entrepreneurship, which is expected to open in the 2018-2019 academic year.