Anna Haldewang’s progress is worth tracking. As an undergraduate, Haldewang (B.F.A., industrial design, 2017) designed Plan Bee, a pollinator drone that could help endangered bee colonies do their job. She was featured in Teen Vogue, CNN, and Time, all before graduating SCAD. Now, as founder/CEO of InsightTRAC, the agripreneur is set to revolutionize the six-billion-dollar-a-year almond industry.
An iterative thinker, Haldewang connects Plan Bee’s past with InsightTrac’s present: “Forbes invited me to their AgTech Summit in California back in 2017. They wanted me to demo the Plan Bee prototype, even though I didn’t have one yet.” She constructed a purpose-built drone using a toy helicopter; an impressed Forbes crowd wanted to know when she was taking it to market.
The market, as Haldewang saw it, was the almond industry, “because they rely one hundred percent on bees to pollinate their crop.” After Plan Bee trials, she realized her drone was less-than-ideally suited to tree-lined terrain, and pivoted to ground robotics, while still focusing on pollination. Then, in February 2019, during a meeting with the head of member relations for Blue Diamond Almonds, “he was upset about navel orangeworms, and I said, ‘Oh, tell me more!’”
The rotten truth: When almond trees get infested, the larvae eat the nuts from the inside, to catastrophic effect. For the industry, it’s a plague. For Haldewang, it was a lightbulb moment. “I said, we’re switching to winter sanitation, we have a market.”
Her new company, InsightTRAC, based in Haldewang’s hometown of Syracuse, Indiana, focuses on an industry where technology is long overdue for an update. For decades, almond growers have either beaten trees by hand or used mechanized tree-shaking contraptions that look like they date from the Harding administration. The attractive InsightTRAC rover is tech-forward and autonomous, with a site-tracking camera that identifies mummy nuts as it rolls through the orchard. The rover shoots down the offending mummies using biodegradable pellets, while the system simultaneously collects data about every tree in the orchard, providing growers with a fully actionable report.
“The best time to remove the pest is winter,” Haldewang explains. This means a seasonal market for InsightTRAC in California and Australia, whose harvests are six months apart. InsightTRAC will conduct a second round of beta trials in Australia this June and July, before launching their pilot program in California in December of this year, with a broader commercial launch goal of 2022.
“SCAD definitely helped prepare me for this entrepreneur space,” Haldewang says. “With prototype development, when something doesn’t work, it doesn’t surprise me. That’s part of the process. Now, as we approach the manufacturing stage with InsightTrac and how it works in terms of materials and injection molding, I understand that from my studies in industrial and marine design.”
As the almond industry continues to grow, it’s as if Haldewang has picked her moment. It’s also, even for a young designer and CEO, already been an incredible journey. Anna agrees. “It’s nuts!”
Written by Peter Relic.