Published on November 5th, 2019 | by Emergent Enterprise0
Food Waste Is a Serious Problem. AI Is Trying to Solve It
Although emergent technology is often painted as a villian (taking away jobs, stealing identities) it is usually the hero. Tackling food waste is a critical component in solving world hunger and as Peter Rejcek reports at Singularity Hub artificial intelligence is being used in innovative ways to reduce waste. Beyond that important achievement, the solutions usually pay for themselves as the companies that implement them don’t need to order as much or use as many resources. It’s definitely another win-win for emergent tech.
Waste not, want not. The proverbial saying has been around for about 250 years, and it refers to wisely using one’s resources or suffering the consequences. It’s also a good introduction to the topic of food waste.
You’re probably familiar with the oft-quoted statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations by now: Globally, about one-third of food is lost or wasted each year from the farm to the refrigerator, representing about 1.3 billion tons. The economic price tag is estimated at nearly $1 trillion annually.
The refrain from the FAO goes even further: If we could reverse this trend, we would have enough food to feed the world’s undernourished population, as well as help meet the nutritional needs of a planet estimated to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050.
Technology has long been helping to hack world hunger. These days most conversations about tech’s impact on any sector of the economy inevitably involves artificial intelligence—sophisticated software that allows machines to make decisions and even predictions in ways similar to humans. Food waste tech is no different.
A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Google estimates that technologies employing AI to “design out food waste” could help generate up to $127 billion a year by 2030. These technologies range from machine vision that can spot when fruit is ready to be picked to algorithms that forecast demand in order to ensure retailers don’t overstock certain foods.
Weighing the Value of Food Waste
One London-based startup that has been generating headlines by reducing food waste is Winnow Solutions. The company took in $20 million in October from equity investments and loans to scale its AI platform, Winnow Vision, which identifies and weighs food waste for commercial kitchens. It then automatically assigns a dollar value to each scraped plate of fettuccine Alfredo or bowl of carrots dumped into its smart waste bin.
Winnow Vision can identify waste foods correctly more than 80 percent of the time and is improving as it learns, Peter Krebs, managing director of Winnow in North America, told Singularity Hub by email. That’s better than the busy kitchen staff, which correctly categorize food waste between 70 and 75 percent of the time.
More complexity comes when food has significantly changed appearance, he added, such as when food has been burnt.
It’s then up to people to turn those insights into action. “At Winnow we use the old adage: What gets measured gets managed,” Krebs said. “Once chefs have the insight into what is being wasted on a daily basis, kitchens can reduce food waste quickly. An average kitchen that uses Winnow reduces food waste by over 50 percent in the first year.”