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VBTI introduces agriculture to robots equipped with smart camera technology

Written by Innovation Origins

Written by Innovation Origins

The winners of the Gerard and Anton Awards are highlighted. Today: VBTI.

The agricultural sector is in dire straits: fewer and fewer people want to work in agriculture so agriculture and horticulture have to look at automation. More and more robots in the agricultural sector are equipped with the technology of VBTI. With almost twenty years of experience, founder Albert van Breemen also helps companies in the production sector. Albert talks more about it in this episode of Start-up of the day.


How did you come up with the idea of VBTI?

"I have been into artificial intelligence (AI) and control engineering since the early 1990s. Once I started my studies, I soon came across what is now called Deep Learning. During my time as a business developer at ASML, there was a hype around artificial intelligence. I heard from many people that we would have missed the boat. Everything to do with AI was already happening in America and China. We would lag behind with that technology. In my opinion, we had not missed the boat at all; there is just another one coming."

"At one point I got a question from a customer. That customer wanted to scale up production, but every product had to be checked manually. That takes an enormous amount of time, and also finding people to perform such an inspection task was almost impossible. That's where Deep Learning comes in with smart camera systems, for example. And that's how I came up with the idea of turning it into a business. Finally, in 2018, I decided to start my own company in the field of Deep Learning - applied to the High Tech Industry."

What does VBTI do?

"We help companies, both large and small, in the field of Deep Learning. If you look in our region you see companies like Philips and ASML where technological development is going well. But as a result, you also see that smaller companies are falling further and further behind in that area. We are basically concerned with applying algorithms to images. Deep Learning technology is a key player in that - a concrete example is imagenet.

I would venture to say that algorithms are better than humans when we talk about anything to do with assessing images.

Albert van Breemen , CEO at VBTI

"Imagenet is a database of over fifteen million photographs. The task is to create an algorithm that recognizes what objects are in those images. For years, researchers have been working on this. That's how algorithms were developed that could do this task."

What challenges have you run into?

"The first challenge, of course, is finding your first customer. I think with any business it's important to think about that. Deep Learning was a new technology that not many companies were using yet. Which made it a challenge to sell it in such a way that you make it clear that the buyer will benefit. That was a tough one, though.

To create that piece of awareness, I first started developing master classes and presentations. At the same time, I had joined what was then called the High Tech Systems Center (HTSC). There I worked one day a week to put new technologies like Deep Learning on the map. That was a win-win for me because I was creating name recognition for both the technology and myself. Through that network, I eventually got my first customer who, in retrospect, has meant an enormous amount to me: VDL."

Which companies does VBTI focus on?

"Agriculture, horticulture and manufacturing are the two sectors we focus on with our High Tech systems. If you start looking at industrial automation within factories, you see that in many processes humans are already no longer involved. The production of cars is already fully robotized just to name one example."

"In agriculture and horticulture, however, there is still a whole market to be gained. This is for two reasons. One is that not every cucumber or tomato is the same. So you need more sophisticated technology to teach such an algorithm what is a tomato and what is not. If you think in factory terms: a bolt is a bolt and a nut is a nut, but in agriculture, things are a little different. The second reason is the problem that fewer and fewer people want to work in agriculture; so we do need to look at ways to automate."

What kind of feeling does winning a Gerard & Anton Award give you?

"We have been in business for over three years now and everything is going well: we have built a nice team, we are working with great technologies. The recognition you feel when you are nominated for an award like this feels like the icing on the cake. I was already familiar with the award. I had already said to my colleague: 'why are we never nominated'. Now we are in the list, with a lot of other cool start-ups. We are all enormously proud of that."

I may be the one who registered the company with the Chamber of Commerce, but we wouldn't be VBTI without all the other employees who have contributed to its success

Albert van Breemen , CEO at VBTI


What tips would you give to other start-ups?

"You should always do what you have a passion for. Look at me: I was already doing Deep Learning when I was a student. When I was 46, suddenly the opportunity to make it into a business came. There was a demand for a technology that was becoming more mature. At some point everything comes together and then you see what you've done it all for."


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