When a shipment of avocados arrives at an importer in the Netherlands, each fruit goes down a conveyor belt and two things happen: First, a machine applies an invisible, edible coating to help the avocado last longer. Next, the machine uses hyperspectral imaging—the same tech used by NASA to look for life on Mars—to look inside the fruit without removing the peel.
“This technology gives us the ability to see things about fruits and vegetables that you just couldn’t see before with the naked eye,” says James Rogers, CEO of Apeel, the California-based company that makes the technology. The company, founded in 2012, first began working on food waste by developing its food-based coating to act like a second peel to protect food; it can make it last twice as long. (So far, the company has applied the coating to avocados, apples, limes, oranges, mandarins, lemons, and plastic-free cucumbers.) Today, Apeel announced that it has acquired ImpactVision, another startup, so that it could add imaging to its equipment.
As the equipment bounces light off a piece of fruit—and some of that light goes inside the fruit—it’s possible to gather data on exactly how ripe and fresh it is, and to make decisions about how long it will last and where it should be delivered. At a distribution center in California, for example, “If this avocado’s going to expire tomorrow, you probably send it to the guacamole factory next door,” Rogers says. “If this avocado’s going to be in perfect condition in four days, maybe it goes on a truck to the Northeast.”