Hone takes research to the real world

Friday, 13 December 2019

A platform that helps farmers test the chemical properties of soil, crops and grain samples in-field and developed by a team of University of Newcastle graduates has secured funding for commercialisation.

Hone's platform uses new developments in spectroscopy to test the chemical traits of any solid or liquid using a combination of a handheld device, a mobile app, and a machine learning cloud solution.

The business, co-founded by Dr Antony Martin, Dr Jamie Flynn, and Dr William Palmer, has been awarded $837,000 from the NSW Physical Sciences Fund to further develop their technology in partnership with the Australian Wine Research Institute.

They were among five teams to share in $5 million in funding announced in Sydney on Tuesday 10 December by the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, The Hon. Rob Stokes. The Fund is administered through the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer and seeks to capture potential commercial applications of NSW research across all branches of physical sciences.

Drs Martin, Flynn and Palmer were working on their Ph.D. at the University of Newcastle when they were introduced to the requirement for rapid testing.

Part of their study required the team to work in a sorghum field as they attempted to breed the best version of the cereal grain possible for a biofuels project. They knew there had to be a better way than bagging and shipping samples to a laboratory for expensive tests that took days, sometimes even weeks, for results to be known.

Early support by generous donors, HMRI, CSIRO ON, and the Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) kick-started the development of the technology that underpins Hone.

The Hone device is a complete platform that attaches to the back of a smartphone and uses spectroscopy techniques to assess the chemical traits of any solid or liquid. The data captured by the device is transferred to the artificial intelligence (AI) cloud via Hone’s smartphone App and decoded for the quantitative or qualitative variables of interest the user has specified for that sample.

The technology can be used throughout the entire winemaking cycle, from analysis of soil nutrients to the uptake of nutrients by the vine, through to the sugar, tannin and acid levels of the fruit itself and can also be applied from crush to bottling, allowing the winemaker to monitor for the desired chemical balance or to provide early detection of unwanted chemical traits. The technology will allow a winemaker to make key decisions about each and every vintage within seconds.

"In the same way Apple has the iPhone, a software platform for developers to build new apps, and the iOS software to sell those apps in their App Store, we've got a device and a machine learning-based platform that allows a community of developers who work in scientific labs to build their own applications to test for specific materials on our device which they can then list for others to use," Dr Martin said.

"Just like how the iPhone enables thousands of tasks, our device allows for the testing of thousands of samples."

Dr Martin said Hone's platform is suitable for farmers and agronomists, accelerating decision-making during the preparation, sowing and growing stages of farming, optimising water, fertiliser, harvesting and storage capabilities.

This technology helps farmers and agronomists make better informed decisions that save them time, money and effort.

The University of Newcastle's Manager, Integrated Innovation Network (I2N), Mrs Siobhan Curran, said the NSW Government funding provides not only much-needed capital required by deep-tech innovators but also the expertise and networks of the Fund's highly esteemed panel.

"Deep-tech commercialisation is particularly hard graft due to the longer lead-time required for clinical trials and product development. Additional support by way of funding and network introductions assists teams to validate their research and real-life application. Taking research discoveries out of the lab and into the hands of everyday people is where impact really takes shape. Hone is better geared to make that impact a reality thanks to this opportunity, " Mrs Curran said.

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