Startup Uses Advanced Imaging Technology and Machine Learning to Sort Seeds and Insects

UC Davis startup Spectral Analytix applies machine vision, robotics and machine learning to automatically classify or sort seeds and insects.

UC Davis startup Spectral Analytix applies machine vision, robotics and machine learning to automatically classify or sort seeds and insects. (Hector Amezcua/UC Davis)

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Christian Nansen, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has launched a startup, Spectral Analytix, to apply machine vision and machine learning to the classification and sorting of seeds and insects.

“The idea is to combine machine vision, robotics and machine learning so you have an automatic eye, an automated arm and an automated brain,” said Nansen. “If you automate those three components you end up with a system that can automatically classify or sort whatever you are working with.”

For the machine “vision,” Nansen works with hyperspectral cameras, which collect data at very high spectral resolution. “The camera on your phone divides light into three wavelengths—red, blue and green,” said Nansen. “You can think of it like a cake with three layers—for each pixel you have three values. With a hyperspectral camera you have 250 bands, so the ‘cake’ now has 250 layers.”

Hyperspectral imaging is used for a wide variety of applications, from mining to surveillance to investigating works of art. Paired with machine learning, hyperspectral imaging is widely used in food processing and recycling industries for sorting.

Several aspects of crop breeding and commercialization of crop seeds involve inspection and quality control.

“Often, these inspection and control measures are time consuming and rely on highly trained technicians. They may also be associated with consistency challenges due to human error. So, replacing them with automated procedures can improve such inspection and control measures and also enable people to focus on other tasks that involve higher levels of complexity,” said Nansen.

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UC Davis Connects with Industry Leaders at World Agri-Tech Summit

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, kicked-off the Genomic and Translational Research Track with a discussion on how university-industry collaborations are accelerating innovation from pilot to full-scale commercial applications.

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, kicked-off the Genomic and Translational Research Track with a discussion on how university-industry collaborations are accelerating innovation from pilot to full-scale commercial applications.

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UC Davis joined over 1,300 industry leaders at this year’s World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco with the goal of accelerating the advancement of agtech solutions to transform the food supply chain into a more sustainable, affordable and nutritious system for future generations.

The theme for this year’s event was “Turning Disruptive Technology into Business Strategy Though Partnership and Collaboration.” Attendees included business leaders, venture capitalists, technologists, startups and international organizations with a focus in the agtech arena.

As the summit’s official Research Partner, UC Davis showcased its unique capabilities and strengths to enhance existing relationships and forge new partnerships with some of the industry’s prominent leaders.

“The Agri-tech Summit has grown from a small gathering of agtech focused pioneers to one of the premier convening venues for ideas, technology development and innovation — bringing together a global mix of established players, innovation-driven startups, investors and technology developers in agtech,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for research and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “Our strong presence at the summit was invaluable in providing visibility to the innovation being led by UC Davis and our research partners at other universities — laying the foundation for future product development by our industry colleagues.”

During the first day of the conference, UC Davis led the Genomics and Translational Research track with discussions that included a deep dive into the next generation of breeding technologies, how to accelerate the development of innovation from pilot to full-scale commercial applications, an overview of the Earth BioGenome Project and a panel discussion highlighting ways corporate partners can engage effectively with universities to drive their commercial pipelines.

On the day preceding the summit, attendees were invited to join a site tour of UC Davis with stops at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, campus livestock facilities showcasing novel approaches to reducing methane emissions in dairy cattle and the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center (part of the Venture Catalyst startup incubator network). The site visit also included a panel discussion highlighting the regional agtech innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

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‘Daylight Harvesting’ Technology licensed to PLC Multipoint

‘Daylight Harvesting’ Technology licensed to PLC Multipoint

The University of California, Davis, and PLC Multipoint, developer of photosensors and associated controls, have signed a licensing agreement to commercialize technology that reduces the cost and increases the reliability of daylight harvesting systems — an approach that reduces energy consumption by automatically adjusting lighting intensity in response to available daylight.

The patented technology offers improved light detection through customizable angular response, dual-loop detection and continuous self-calibration that automatically accounts for changes in the space. The system is composed of a microcontroller, two photosensors, an optional occupancy sensor and optional user controls. These components can be integrated into a single unit or combined through wired or wireless communications for a variety of products and systems.

The agreement covers three U.S. patents (7781713, 7683301, and 7592583) for technologies developed by the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at UC Davis. The work leading to the inventions was supported by the Public Interest Energy Research program of the California Energy Commission. The licensing strategy for the technology allows for four co-exclusive licenses, two of which remain available.

“We are very excited to partner with PLC Multipoint for the development of commercial photosensing approaches that improve reliability and cost effectiveness in daylight harvesting applications,” said Dr. Konstantinos Papamichael, professor in the Department of Design and co-director of CLTC.

CLTC chose to bring this technology to market with PLC Multipoint, in part due to its leadership in photosensor design and manufacturing.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with UC Davis in bringing to market exciting new sensor technology,” said Joe Briscoe, product manager for PLC Multipoint. “We believe this will continue to improve the cost and efficiency of daylight harvesting.” The company plans to utilize the technology to support the development of a new generation of lighting control sensors.

“CLTC is at the forefront of innovation in sustainable and energy efficient lighting design and technology development,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Technology Management and Corporate Relations and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “Its partnership with PLC Multipoint, embodied within the licensing arrangement enabled by the InnovationAccess team, represents one of the many ways in which CLTC enables our industry stakeholders for broad societal benefit.”

For more information about the technology and available licenses, please visit the InnovationAccess website: 

About the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis

The California Lighting Technology Center is a not-for-profit research, development and demonstration facility dedicated to accelerating the development and commercialization of next-generation, energy-efficient lighting and daylighting technologies. The center includes full-scale laboratories for research and development, as well as prototyping and product testing.

About UC Davis InnovationAccess

InnovationAccess is one of three units within the Technology Management and Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research. It actively manages a patent portfolio of more than 1,380 inventions and 250 patents, reflecting the diversity of the campus’ research and technology innovation, and seeks opportunities to commercialize these via licensing, with more than 664 active licenses (including plant and utility licenses). InnovationAccess also supports licensing to enable startup companies emerging from university research.

About PLC Multipoint

For more than 25 years, PLC Multipoint has developed and produced lighting sensors and custom control solutions. In 2010, the company began manufacturing off-the-shelf lighting control systems, featuring sensor technology with daylight harvesting capabilities. All of its products are manufactured in a production facility located in Everett, Washington. The company serves its broad base of customers through four separate business divisions — PLC Buildings Lighting Control Systems, PLC Sensors Control Devices, PLC Transportation Control Systems and PLC Industrials Custom Systems.

HM.CLAUSE and UC Davis Venture Catalyst Extend Commitment to Support Early-stage Startups

Life Science Innovation Center

UC Davis Venture Catalyst and HM.CLAUSE have extended and enhanced their partnership on the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center, a business incubator focused on advancing regional innovation in the life sciences.

The UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center is a 3,100 square-foot, off-campus facility located in Davis, California. The facility, which is owned and managed by HM.CLAUSE, a global leader in the production and sale of vegetable seeds, contains biochemistry, molecular biology and chemistry lab space, as well as 1,800 square feet of contiguous greenhouse growth facilities. Established in 2014, it is the only wet lab incubator facility of its kind in the Davis-Sacramento region, supporting life science startups ranging from agtech to human therapeutics. Startups are able to rent dedicated lab bench space in the facility ― which also includes access to shared lab equipment and instrumentation, office space, and meeting rooms ― for a period ranging between six months to two years.

The expanded partnership sets forth a commitment for a minimum of five additional years to support the facility and grow the associated resources available to early-stage startups and other innovative companies. To supplement the shared lab equipment and instrumentation available at the facility, Venture Catalyst has allocated funding received through the University of California Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill (AB 2664) to make available additional technical equipment and specialized instrumentation for the benefit of startups leasing space in the incubator. HM.CLAUSE is also making improvements to the facility to expand shared office space and to provide access to additional lab bench space for tenants.

“The successful collaboration with UC Davis on the Life Science Innovation Center has provided us with a unique and beneficial opportunity to engage with innovative ideas being advanced by aspiring entrepreneurs and startup companies within our industry and beyond,” said Cecilia Chi-Ham, director of Innovation, Intellectual Property and R&D Strategy at HM.CLAUSE. “HM.CLAUSE is committed to supporting community-based, local and regional economic development and this is a visible and impactful example of our many efforts on this front.”

The UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center was the first member of the Venture Catalyst Distributed Research Innovation & Venture Engine (DRIVETM) Program, a network of business incubators on- and off-campus that provide university-affiliated startups access to affordable work space, laboratory space and equipment ― supplemented with support and resources provided by Venture Catalyst. As the region’s innovation ecosystem has matured, the DRIVE Program has grown to include eight members, extending the resources available to university-affiliated entrepreneurs and startups in the Davis-Sacramento region and beyond.

“We are thrilled to enhance our partnership with HM.CLAUSE, which offers wet lab incubator space that addresses the demand for specialized research and development facilities by many of the early-stage, university-affiliated startups we are supporting through Venture Catalyst and its programs,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Technology Management & Corporate Relations at UC Davis and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “This collaboration is a critical component in our efforts to cultivate robust technology startups and drive regional economic impact.”

In 2016, HM.CLAUSE received the inaugural UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovative Community Partner Award. This award recognizes a leader or organization in the UC Davis community that has contributed significantly to driving regional economic impact through innovation, entrepreneurship or support for growing a startup ecosystem in collaboration with the university.

Since its launch in 2015, ten early-stage startups have leased space in the incubator. One of the center’s first tenants, Circularis Biotechnologies, Inc., has made notable progress on business milestones while maintaining a presence in the incubator. Circularis has developed a novel method to regulate gene expression and enable increased production yields of proteins, enzymes and small molecules with applications across biotherapeutics manufacturing, industrial biotechnology, and large-scale agriculture. The company was founded by Paul Feldstein, assistant project scientist at UC Davis, to commercialize technology developed at the university. Circularis received funding and mentorship through its participation in IndieBio’s 2015 winter cohort and has since established partnerships with several companies utilizing the platform for industrial and medical applications. “Having access to the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center has allowed my company to make significant strides in developing its technology in an environment that promotes collaboration and offers vital access to key pieces of technical equipment,” said Feldstein.

Another recent tenant, MiraculeX, arrived at the Life Science Innovation Center by way of IndieBio, where it participated in the 2016 spring cohort. MiraculeX has received funding to develop plant-based protein sweeteners, intended to be better tasting and healthier natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners for use in foods. Its ability to enhance flavor profiles of existing foods is expected to enable additional applications beyond sweetening, such as the potential to improve appetite in patients undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from chronic wasting conditions associated with reduced food intake. “The UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center and opportunities for engagement with faculty, staff, and students at UC Davis were critical factors in my decision to move MiraculeX to Davis,” said Alan Perlstein, CEO and founder. “Being able to work in a greenhouse facility and develop connections with the university and a strong network throughout Northern California has accelerated our progress on important company milestones.”

Current university-affiliated tenants at the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center include:

  • ARIZ Precision Medicine – developing new, targeted biology based and small-molecule based therapies for cancer.
  • AstRoNA – combining RNA-based molecular biology and nano-technology/electrical engineering to rapidly and sensitively identify critical microbes, including pathogens of humans, animals and plants.
  • Buto Biopharma – developing drugs that impact the Shc target, with implications for anti-diabetes and tissue protection.
  • Circularis – developing novel methods to regulate gene expression and enable increased production yields of proteins, enzymes, and small molecules in cellular systems.
  • Inserogen – biotechnology company that utilizes proprietary technologies to accelerate Pre-Investigational New Drug research and process development of therapeutic biologics for rare diseases.
  • MiraculeX – developing platforms to mass produce natural plant-based protein sweeteners and products.
  • PathLog Corporation – developing deep learning analytical tools and sensors for processing, financial analysis and tracking, risk assessment, and pathogen safety for vertically integrated food and agricultural product producers including poultry and pork.

About Venture Catalyst

UC Davis Venture Catalyst facilitates the translation of university research and technology by enabling the effective development of new ventures. Along with directly supporting campus innovators and community-based entrepreneurs, Venture Catalyst engages with the Davis and Sacramento business, government and economic development communities to articulate how UC Davis technologies and startups can be expected to generate regional economic impact. Working closely with these partners, Venture Catalyst is invigorating the technology-based entrepreneurial ecosystem of the region.


HM.CLAUSE is a global vegetable seed company dedicated to meeting local needs through global diversity, and is committed to innovation inspired by worldwide partnerships in the scientific, industrial, and commercial fields. An innovative company whose core business is plant breeding, HM.CLAUSE specializes in the development, production, and sales of vegetable seeds worldwide. In 2008, Harris Moran Seed Company (USA) and Clause (France) were grouped together under the HM.CLAUSE Business Unit of Limagrain. HM.CLAUSE generated €325 million in annual sales in 2016 and employs more than 2,800 people full-time located in over 30 countries around the world. Its investments in research and breeding represent 14% of annual sales. The organization coordinates breeding for 25 species and has more than 800 people actively engaged in research and development activities. HM.CLAUSE is a Business Unit of Limagrain, an international agricultural co-operative group, specializing in field seeds, vegetable seeds and cereal products. Founded and managed by French farmers, Limagrain is the 4th largest seed company in the world.

About AB-2664

Assembly Bill 2664, also referred to as the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion bill, was authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, and signed last fall by Governor Jerry Brown. AB 2664 is designed to propel new innovation and entrepreneurship efforts across the University of California through investments in infrastructure, incubators and entrepreneurship education programs. The $22 million investment was dispersed equally to each of the ten UC campuses at the beginning of 2017. Venture Catalyst is the program lead at UC Davis and is implementing a variety of innovation and entrepreneurship expansion activities in conjunction with partners on campus, including the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Engineering Student Startup Center, the Office of the Provost, Graduate Studies and the Internship and Career Center, as well as external community partners, such as HM.CLAUSE.

September 20, 2017

By Ryan Sharp

Related Links

HM.CLAUSE receives UC Davis Chancellor Innovative Community Partner Award

UC Davis partners with HM.CLAUSE to open Life Science Innovation Center

UC Davis to enhance campus innovation with $2.2 million from State Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill, AB 2664

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