Left, Randy Sasaki in China developing his product with other scientist. Credit: Randy Sasaki

Artificial intelligence could be coming to a field near you if a Fort Lupton High School alum has his way.

Randy Sasaki, a Fort Lupton grad, leads a company that hopes to create artificially intelligent crop monitoring systems to help agriculture get a jump on insects and other pests that can harm crops.

Sasaki said agricultural pests destroyed more than 30% of crops produced in the United States yearly, with $45 billion in losses.  The global cost of invasive species is estimated at $1.4 trillion annually, close to 5% of global gross domestic product. 

“These problems are expanding with increased global temperatures, leading to additional generations per year for some species and allowing pests to infest previously uninhabitable areas,” Sasaki said.

Sasaki’s business, Solarid AR, was awarded a $981,169 grant from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation in September.

“Initially, I felt relief in receiving the award; it confirmed that we had completed the development of our artificial intelligence technology. Later, I was proud of the accomplishment and excited that we received funding to develop a commercial product for the technology,” Sasaki.

His project has three primary goals, according to his grant application to the National Science Foundation. 

“First, the artificial intelligence technology will have a significant and enduring impact on our society by reducing crop loss and the volumes of toxic chemicals used in agriculture,” he said.  “Second, it offers a defense of the general public from invasive and infectious species of insects. And third, it should improve the economies of rural communities.”

Sasaki said his smart insect control trap technology is an agriculture monitoring device designed to reduce the $47 billion in annual loss from pests.

“A third of the world’s soil degraded from overuse and during increasing weather fluctuations, global populations are rising to unsustainable levels requiring agriculture to produce 70% more food than is available today,” Sasaki said. 

“As a result, the agriculture industry has been consolidating for over 50 years, with total acres per farm expanding as profit margins have decreased,” he said.

Farmers today not only deal with climate change but also with pests that could destroy crops. A Fort Lupton High alum’s business seeks to use artificial intelligence to tackle the problem. Credit: Belen Ward

Networked precision

The trend is towards “Precision Agriculture,” using networked sensors to measure the exact water, fertilizer, herbicide and insecticide needs to increase crop production and profitability. 

“In other words, this technique uses less to grow more,” Sasaki said. “According to research, if 15% of farms adopt precision agricultural techniques, crop yield could increase by more than 15% in less than ten years while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and inputs by 10% and 20% respectively. Analysts estimate that the Precision Agriculture market will reach $22 billion by 2025 with a compound annual growth rate of 9.8%.”

His technology is part of that, but instead of using the sensors to monitor the crops, weather and soil, his systems traps the bugs while artificially intelligent sensors work to identify them.

Sasaki came up with the idea while working in China from 2009 to 2015. He was developing a technology to attract insects, but it couldn’t identify the species. That led him to investigate and develop systems that could differentiate and identify different pest species in 2019.

While the traps he helped develop capture and isolate the pests, keeping them from the crops, the new artificially intelligent systems work to identify them, tracking them across a network. 

Sasaki said his technology can identify many diverse insects, tracking new threats via artificial intelligence.

“It refines existing species concepts, can revolutionize ecological studies on arthropods, greatly increase the speed and accuracy of insect diagnostics work around the country and can be used for biomonitoring to assess water quality,” Sasaki said. 

What’s more, the system can share what it’s learned with systems on other farms around the state, the region and nationally.

“The objective of establishing these networks is to create an early warning system, predict migration patterns and to identify the presence of invasive and infectious species of insects,” Sasaki said.

“Every three years, a new pest of economic importance is identified in the United States, which is increasing pressure on crops and resulting pesticide applications. In response, the U.S. farm industry is currently spending more than $25 billion per year on pesticides 100,000 tons.”

Solarid is an Arkansas-based Agtech company, a subsidiary of his Colorado-based IPM Products.

About $340,000 of the National Science Foundation award went to researchers at the University of Arkansas who are developing a camera powered by AI that will connect to Solarid’s existing smarter insect trap. It identifies and counts the insects, according to Ashley Dowling, a researcher at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

“It’s exciting to know we have the funding to take the next step toward producing a marketable, field-ready unit a few years from now, our invention could be in fields across the U.S. helping farmers monitor and protect their crops,” he said.

Business background

Sasaki was born in Longmont to Joe and Jane Sasaki. He graduated from Fort Lupton High School in 1975 and attended Colorado State University and Metropolitan State University of Denver to study Aerospace Engineering.

Sasaki got this start in finance, as a managing partner with California-based Newport MicroCap Fund. The 2008 recession and new regulations on the industry two years later ended that business and his career.

“I had to start over when I was considering retirement,” Sasaki said. “I started over, learning how to develop technology with grants.”

He hopes his smarter insect trap will bring the U.S. into an economically competitive global agricultural market. 

“It will positively impact the health and welfare of the American public through reduced pesticide use and will introduce rural populations to technology, highlighting the benefits of investment in STEM education and research,” Sasaki said.

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