12 Feb 2018
Why Shrimp Farming? OsmoBot’s Story
Written by Zach Stein

Our Mission

We believe that to save our oceans, we need to allow shrimp farming to outcompete with wild capture in terms of quality, taste, sustainability, and price.

Who We Are

Zach Stein (CEO) and James Regulinski (CTO) met when they were four years old. They have been best friends ever since.

Zach’s path towards building tech for shrimp farming began after he graduated from college, moved to the Bay Area, and entered the world of urban agriculture. He founded a number of companies as he looked to answer the big question in food – how are we going to sustainably feed 10 billion people without destroying the environment?

James’ path began a bit earlier. When he was 10 years old, his parents pulled him out of school and homeschooled him as they sailed around the world for five years. During this time, James developed a deep connection with our oceans and a desire to apply quality engineering to solve our globe’s biggest problems. James returned to the US to get his engineering degree at Olin College and has worked as a mechanical engineer at sustainability/clean-tech startups ever since.

Together, Zach and James began building technology for shrimp farms because they believe that in order to feed the growing population while maintaining the health of our oceans, we need to be farming the vast majority of our seafood, not catching it. This means we need to make shrimp farms and fish farms as productive and profitable as possible. ​

Why Shrimp Farming

Overfishing has always been the dark side of the seafood industry. Here in the US some of our grandest fisheries are already gone. Here’s a few of the famous ones: Cape Cod, Cannery Row, and the SF Bay Area. With the rise of the middle classes of seafood loving countries like China, we are seeing this process accelerating at a truly global scale.

A farmer holds white leg shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei.

In fact, as far as food consumption goes fish and shrimp are the last animals that we hunt on a mass scale – luckily this is changing. For the first time in the history of mankind, we now farm more fish than we catch. Over the past 30 years aquaculture has expanded dramatically to keep up with rising demand and stagnant wild supply. The industry generated $165B in revenue in 2015 and is growing 6.8% a year to keep up with demand.

Despite its increasing prevalence, shrimp farming is still perceived by many to be less sustainable than wild caught. A stigma exists throughout the general public and when we explain what we’re doing, a lot of the times the response we get is: “I don’t eat farmed fish” (especially from investors). Thankfully, aquaculture’s bad name is changing. Global certifications programs, including BAP and ASC, and strict import guidelines to high-value western markets are pushing the biggest players in the right direction.

The Problem We’re Solving

The shrimp farming industry is industrializing. Fast. To keep up with demand, billions of investment dollars are pouring in to expand and industrialize farms. Smaller “mom and pop” farms are being consolidated under major processing and distribution brands and existing farms are feeling pressured to keep up with global competition.

Infographic explaining the catastrophic effects of overfishing.

This phenomenon is not new – the poultry industry in the US underwent a similar transformation following WWII. Prior to then, the industry was highly fragmented, with few major players, and most production came from individual smaller farms. But the demand the war put on the American food system pushed the industry to consolidate and industrialize to where it is today. Global seafood demand paired with the falling wild supply is putting the same pressures for consolidation and industrialization on aquaculture, with a highlight of farmed shrimp specifically.

With this industrialization, the problem farmers are facing now is technological. aquaculture technology today is where agriculture technology was 30 years ago; it is labor-intensive, offline, and has little to no analytical capabilities. Without connected sensor networks to monitor their farms, today’s shrimp farmers are forced to compensate by stocking their ponds/tanks less densely and accepting higher mortality rates per harvest. Not only that, they are also missing out on the downstream advantages of connected sensors that are advancing other industrialized industries: big data analytics, machine learning, and automation.

In short, the industry is far less productive than it could be. ​

Sensors. Software. Robotics.

OsmoBot is the world’s first monitor for aquaculture that is cellular-enabled, affordable, and simple to maintain, which makes it the first that is deployable at the scale of the world’s largest farms.

A shrimp farm manager records data at a shrimp tank.

OsmoBot comprises of three parts: the Aqua Sensor, the Hub, and our online software platform. We realized we needed to build own sensor because while sensors and monitoring platforms exist for aquaculture, the big farms aren’t using them. Here’s why. First, they are very expensive – up to 1/8th of a farms capital cost. And second, they are technologically challenging (and frankly very frustrating) to keep calibrated in the field. When you have thousands of ponds, training and retaining the thousands of employees you need to maintain existing electronic probes is very difficult.

So we saw that in order to make a real solution, we needed to start with a new sensor. Rather than relying on electronic probes, the Aqua Sensor utilizes optical sensing technology to track the hard parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, and ammonia – NH3). Not only is this far more affordable than existing sensors, but they never require recalibration. Instead, the sensor cartridge gets exchanged once a month and the optics can be cleaned with a toothbrush.

The Aqua Sensors run on long cables and up to 10 of them can be plugged into the second part of OsmoBot, the Hub. The Hub links the sensors to the cloud via cellular (3G) or Wi-Fi and has a big, flashing color indicator if anything needs attention on the app.

The final part of OsmoBot is the online platform. Here farmers can get an overview of their farm in real time, see hotspots and address them before they become major issues, set text/email alerts and alarms, and enter their yields to understand why one pond did better than another. It is this last aspect of the software that really excites us, as for the first time in the history of the industry, we’ll get to apply the power of big data and machine learning to aquaculture. Our bet is that we help uncover new best practices that lead to significant improvements in yield and efficiency. ​

Our Path Forward

Hey, where’s the part about robotics? It’s in our master plan:

  1. Develop a new class of sensors and online monitoring hardware that is far more affordable and easy to use compared to what’s on the market today. (This is what we’re working on now).
  2. Build the world’s first hardware/software platform built for large-scale aquaculture. This platform will be simple to operate on a day-to-day basis but analytically powerful, making it the tool farm managers rely upon to organize and run their complex operations.
  3. Add tools on the software platform that allow farm managers to conduct on-the-ground analytics on their systems so they can be best optimized. In this way, farm managers can conduct realtime, real-world experiments to improve yield and reduce costs.
  4. Release additional hardware that works wirelessly with OsmoBot to automate existing equipment on the farm: aerators, feeders, and temperature control. (robotics!).

Our goal as a company is to dramatically increase the production capacity of existing land-based shrimp farms. We believe that through a combination of cloud-based real time monitoring, analytics correlating water quality with yields, and automating as many of the processes as possible, OsmoBot can increase shrimp farming yields by 25% – 100%.

To make OsmoBot a reality, we are partnering with the most innovative shrimp farmers. They operate a range of systems: from some of the world’s largest to smallest, cutting-edge RAS ones. If you consider yourself such a farmer, please email our CEO Zach Stein at zach@osmobot.com about setting up a pilot. ​

Our Mission

To end our story, we want to reiterate our mission. Technology turned us into such expert fishermen that we’ve emptied our oceans. Now technology will help us become such expert shrimp farmers that we can let the oceans rest.

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