24/7 guard: RSU Business Incubator Develops Autonomous Lawn Meter
This summer, Rīga Stradiņš University’s (RSU) Business Incubator B-Space set free their first "graduates". During Demo day, six teams presented their innovations to improve our everyday life. The laurels of the competition were won by the trio RED Measurements and their palm-sized autonomous lawn meter. It combines a number of functions at the same time – it measures the height of the grass, records the humidity of the ground, air temperature and light intensity.
The idea came from seeing lushly overgrown lands and hearing from acquaintances about warnings to get penalised for overgrown lawns. Contrary to the team's name, its innovation is still in relatively “green development stage”, but the freshly gained recognition has given the team a good dose of inspiration for the future, says RED Measurements trio Roberts Dūks, Emīls Sproģis and Deivids Bergmanis.
The idea was developed under the RSU Business Incubator’s wing. RED Measurements trio is convinced that there is an increasing action in the start-up environment in Latvia. However, the amount of funds available is relatively smaller, at the same time the competition is less than in Scandinavia or Estonia, the guys point out.
Left to right: Deivids, Roberts, Emīls
Just nail it!
Two years ago, Roberts started his studies at RSU related to start-up entrepreneurship management with the idea that he would like to find his own business idea to develop in parallel with the studies. As soon as the B-Space Business Incubator started its activity last year, Roberts was convinced that he wants to be a part of it all. He addressed his childhood friends, who had already chosen their own professional direction – Deivids graduated from Riga Technical University’s (RTU) study programme Transport Electronics and Telematics this summer, but Emīls graduated Copenhagen School of Design and Technology, from the programme Production Development and Integrative Technology at the beginning of the year. After “playing” with another idea, they came to the need to remotely monitor the condition of the lawn, which would be done with the autonomous lawn meter Green Measure.
Depending on the external conditions, the grass grows from three to 10 centimetres every week. In Latvia, as in many parts of the world, the length of the grass in private and public places is controlled by binding regulations of local governments. Emīls told that on the Demo day, just before the presentation, he received a message from a friend who had previously heard about the guys' intention to develop a lawn meter. ‘He wrote that he just got penalised for the overgrown grass in his country property, and said that we have to hit it and develop the idea,’ says Emīls about the encouragement that came just at the right time.
While working on the product in the B-Space Business Incubator, the boys found a survey with 2,200 lawn owners, where 63 % of the respondents mentioned that they would like to improve the condition of their lawn.
"‘This is the second benefit of Green Measure – in addition to information about the height of the grass, the meter will provide a digital overview of all the essential conditions that help the lawn grow thick and healthy,’ says Roberts, who the other members without any hesitation call the powerhouse of the team.
As Deivids sums up: ‘I'm the engineering brain of the team, Emīls knows the functional design and neatly wraps up everything I develop, but Roberts is the driving force behind it all. He controlled the participation in the incubator, plans the overall development, seeks funding opportunities and manages everything related to publicity.’ Deivids adds that ‘many innovative ideas do not come to implementation because of the lack of people like Roberts who manages to put all the ideas together and encourages to take the next steps’.
Before taking things in hand, none of the guys could call themselves a lawn expert, so at the beginning of the idea they appreciated the involvement of their mentor, RSU Leading Researcher, Assistant Professor Karina Palkova, who brought the guys together with Rafael Joffi, the member of the board of Bulduri Horticultural Secondary School. Later, RTU professor of geomatics Jānis Zvirgzds did also not refuse to give guys an advice and explained sensor diversity and principles of their use. Once all the points regarding horticulture and sensor technology were cleared up, the young men appreciated their mentor's advice on the legal aspects of the intended product and their future company.
‘It was a pleasure to work with this team – the guys were burning with their idea, besides it was very interdisciplinary, which is my passion. I believe that innovations are most often born where representatives of different industries meet at the same table, as in the case with RED Measurements,’ emphasises Asst. Prof. Palkova.
Kristaps Zaļais, mentor at B-Space Incubator and lecturer at the RSU Department of International Business and Economics, also emphasises that the interaction of different branches opens up solutions that are not otherwise noticed by experts in one field: ‘Different experiences and different universities have met under the roof of one incubator and have created a relatively simple but at the same time useful product with the potential for innovation in the international arena.’
It is planned to integrate both the lawn height meter and the ground moisture, air temperature and light intensity meters in the solar-powered device.
Although the abbreviation RED is formed from the initials of all the names of the team members, guys are now actively considering to attract a fourth fellow. The device is expected to automatically process and send the user a digital report on condition of the lawn. ‘We are searching for IT brain, since all the data from the meter will be stored in the digital cloud. We have enough knowledge to set this device going, but the next challenge is to digitally package it in a way that is understandable and convenient for the customer,’ says Emīls.
Integration into robot lawnmowers
Asked about the competitors, the guys already explained to the jury on the Demo day that they haven’t found exactly such multifunctional automated meter in the market. When thinking about the possible development of the product, guys consider both the possibility of leaving it as a separate device, as well as integrating it, for example, into robotic lawnmowers, making them work not according to the timer, but according to how long the grass has grown. During the presentation of the Demo day, it became clear that it would be more appropriate for them not to work with individual households, but to work in a business-to-business format with clients such as golf clubs or business-to-government, addressing state and municipal institutions.
In terms of further development, Roberts outlines plans for the next three years. This year it is planned to test, visually supplement and launch the manufacturing of the device, but next year we plan to start selling the Green Measure, integrating the received feedback into the further improvement of the lawn meter. At this stage, it is planned to attract 20 thousand euros for product development, but in the third year we hope to build cooperations regarding robotic lawnmowers.
The RED Measurements guys admit that winning at the RSU incubator’s first Demo day has given the team confidence to take next steps. Without this kind of external acknowledgment, the idea would be progressing much slower, guys are convinced. (Left to right: Deivids, Roberts, Emīls). Photo by Miks Užāns
Work smart, not hard
After the successful start, the trio has now taken a short break to calm dawn and consider the further direction in which to go. However, the near future seems to be bustling. Roberts will be graduating from RSU, and the final year will be the biggest challenge, as the programme he is currently acquiring, is now integrated into the new study programme International Business and Start-up Entrepreneurship, that is implemented in English. Meanwhile, Deivids and Emīls have focused more intensively on their professional lives: Deivids is BMX trainer and Emīls is an industrial designer. Both together are also developing Emīl's oak tableware business on a part-time basis, from which the idea for the Green Measure’s casing was borrowed.
Due to the guys’ busy everyday life, the development of the lawn meter mostly goes on weekday evenings, nights and holidays with all the resulting motivation "pits" from which they have pulled each other out. Looking back, guys reveal one lesson learned – you should not endlessly “polish” the idea in silence striving for perfection, because constructive criticism and catchy questions help to improve it. ‘You have to pluck up the courage and just hit it,’ laughs Emīls. Meanwhile, Roberts emphasises the second point they had stuck to – it is important to weight out how to do things smarter, faster and more conveniently. So to speak: you have to work smarter, not harder, sums up the powerhouse of the project.