In this article, we dive into the achievements of our researchers. This time, we tackle the topic of “Rotation Electric-Field Distribution for Volumetric Sensing of Fruit Ripeness”, for which Rahul Yadar, researcher at imec OnePlanet, and his colleagues received an award during imec’s Intellectual Property Day 2023.
Converting green fingers into life enhancing technology
Rahul and his colleagues want to contribute to reducing worldwide food shortages by developing smart sensing solutions that can help in achieving better yield and lower crop loss. Their focus lies on greenhouse use cases; they want to develop crop monitoring sensors that could become a key building block of more efficient, autonomous greenhouse farming. “In The Netherlands, but also in several other European countries, greenhouse farming has seen a rapid expansion. In turn, this has translated into novel crop management approaches that help us address food shortages.”
“However, the problem with greenhouses is that they consume a lot of power”, Rahul continues. Therefore, he and his colleagues want to develop crop monitoring sensors that could become a key building block of more efficient, autonomous greenhouse farming. Besides the power, there is also the problem of labour. “Growers inspect their crop by experience – using their eyes, and (green) fingers. Our aim is to convert those green fingers into life-enhancing technology.”
To do so, Rahul and his colleagues have developed a sensor that can estimate the shelf-life of a tomato after it is harvested. It is based on electromagnetics principles.
His research is part of a public private partnership project with Wageningen University and Research (WUR), which started four years ago. One of the partners is a big grower of tomatoes in The Netherlands. The project involves the development of a better sorting and quality inspection machine, and technology which will help improve quality control and reduce waste. “One of the requirements is to develop a common platform that can assess several of the tomato’s parameters like firmness, juiciness, sugar content, etc. Our research relates to one of the building blocks in the entire measurement campaign.”
Why shelf-life? Rahul: “A grower wants to sell its crop to different wholesalers and grocery stores. The better they can estimate the shelf-life, the better storage of the samples, and the less spoilage.”
To collect their measurements, Rahul and his team worked alongside WUR researchers, analyzing thousands of tomato sample batches every week. “WUR helped us prepare the samples, since they have more experience in handling different crops, and dealing with crop cultivation, shelf-life, and other quality aspects.”
Initially the project focused on postharvesting, but gradually the Emerging Sensing team of which Rahul is part, learned that there is even more interest in preharvesting. “That is something we learned by going into the field and learning from farmers and industrial partners.”
An appetite for solving problems
Rahul has a background in electromagnetics. “That includes device design, device modelling and development, and then applying it to various use cases – ranging from biomedical, agriculture and food.” He earned a master’s in engineering and a PhD in India. In 2019, he got a postdoc position at imec in Leuven. “I wanted to do research and connect to the industry for more practical applications.”
There, a seed was planted. “I enjoyed working with great mentors, such as Yao-Hong Liu, Ilja Ocket, and Chengxun Liu. I was also able to broaden my expertise and experience, thanks to the trainings organized by the imec.academy. It all helped me build an unique set of skills.”
Following this postdoc, Rahul returned to India – where he started working as an equity and index trader. Yet, eight months later he applied for “this very interesting position at imec OnePlanet”. He got the job and has been working as an RF-sensing engineer at imec at OnePlanet since November 2021.
Rahul loves solving problems. “When I try to solve a problem, and I get stuck, that is the part I enjoy the most. It motivates me to work towards a solution. Challenging problems help me explore unbeaten paths.”
In his private life he considers himself as a “quite ordinary person”. “I pay attention to my health; I do sports like running and I go to the gym. Coming from India, we embrace a cultural ethos where work is viewed as a form of worship. This belief means that we have a deep respect for our work, leading us to approach it holistically. However, working at imec has allowed me to pursue a good work-life balance while still valuing my professional responsibilities.”
Besides Rahul, the inventors in this patent application were Jan Willem de Wit, Bas Boom and Peter Offermans.