How Cropster uses artificial intelligence to interpret data


Cropster aims to enrich the coffee industry by deploying the use of artificial intelligence into its product suite as a means to interpret data and provide actionable insights.

Cropster Co-Founder Martin Wiesinger is on a mission to make the specialty coffee industry better and more efficient through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.

When Wiesinger Co-founded Cropster 16 years ago as a roasting management solutions- based company along with Norbert Niederhauser and Andreas Idl, it was an idea born from their passion and commitment.

“We met in Colombia at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, where we worked on a coffee project that aimed to link coffee farmers to the market. We were fascinated by the questions surrounding the growth of specialty coffee and the connection between producers in Colombia and the global market,” says Wiesinger.

“The project had the support of early specialty coffee industry players, and we collected vast amounts of data to derive insights and support. But when it came to an end, we saw the impact the information had on producers and their ability to make better decisions, so we took it upon ourselves to bring this to life in the form of Cropster.”

Wiesinger and his team have long recognised the potential of AI in their products, and in 2018, they dedicated resources to building their internal research team and hiring data scientists.

“We had reached a level where we had a lot of good information that we can use,” says Wiesinger. “All our tools help us collect data in a structured way that we can turn into insights. Now with AI, we can help find patterns and understand better what’s going on in a data set, but you need to have this data set first.”

“AI makes sense where there is a lot of data and can be overwhelming for humans to make sense of it. That’s why our platform aims to provide only the useful information and thus insights to our customers based on their data sets.”

The team at Cropster have set their sight on using the learning capabilities of AI to address an open field of previously underutilised information. By collating and collecting data throughout each phase of the coffee production process and using AI to observe data patterns, it provides a new stage for which producers, roasters and café operators can base their decision-making.

“Good data is crucial to the success of our customers,” Wiesinger says.

Cropster’s central platform collects the data and its suite of products and data tools help disseminate the information to empower customers with digestible and translatable insights.

Cropster’s Roasting Intelligence is one such program that uses smart prediction capabilities to anticipate the roast outcome. It measures data variables such as heat mass and roast temperature. It also provides roasters with advice on how to prevent defects in real-time, and make pre- emptive decisions to ensure maximum coffee quality and minimum wastage.

“It’s always good to go back and attend to the data and say, ‘oh, I had a defect because I did something. And I tried to prevent it next time, but how can I actually prevent it?’,” Wiesinger says.

Wiesinger and his team are leveraging the adaptive learning abilities of AI with their collated data set to continually provide more accurate information to roasters.

“For example, we are looking to improve the process by feeding more information into the system, so it can understand the thermal mass and adapt its strategy to better replicate the desired outcome. This helps to maintain consistency during the roasting process,” says Wiesinger.

Cropster’s Green Coffee run rate prediction takes into account the many data variables that influence running a coffee roasting business, such as supply and demand, seasonality, bean quality, and patterns of coffee consumption. This information can help identify when coffee stock runs low, and aids production managers to deliver the highest quality coffee to customers.

“With our Roasting Intelligence, Green Coffee prediction, and central platform, we provide the confidence and insights that roasters need to produce the perfect cup, every time,” says Wiesinger.

Cropster Origin, a complete information management system for coffee producers and Cropster Lab, a quality control program, also enables coffee producers and green coffee buyers to make use of the information and data they are constantly generating.

“Our tools provide an intuitive interface for businesses to have more accurate predictions and solutions based on data collected, collated, and disseminated by Cropster,” Wiesinger says.

When it comes to applying high-tech, data- driven, cloud-based tools into everyday cafés, Wiesinger says there is still some work to be done. Cropster is addressing this roadblock by providing the hardware that older espresso machines need to take advantage of Cropster’s AI solutions.

Espresso machines from our partner La Marzocco that are enabled with Internet of Things (IoT) compatibility, are easily connected to Cropster’s Cafe product and provide insights into brew consistency and equipment use across their entire machine fleet in a central system.

“We also provide hardware for espresso machines that are not yet IoT ready and thus collect the data from older machines in the same central system. With an ever-increasing amount of data, we can use AI to not only pinpoint issues in specific locations but anticipate them pre- emptively.” says Wiesinger.

Predictive maintenance and automated staff training saves time and resources for small businesses and allows them to focus on what they do best, producing the best product possible.

Despite the input of AI, Wiesinger emphasises the crucial role that the human mind plays in the roasting process of coffee.

“The roaster holds the key to creating the perfect profile for their customers. AI can support the process, but the actual transformation from green coffee to a suitable product is human-driven and requires a lot of cognitive skills,” says Wiesinger.

With the increasing use of AI and technology in the coffee industry, Wiesinger says it’s important it’s used to “complement and enhance our lives, not take away from it”.

“Our goal is to make organisations more efficient and help small companies operate effectively while making a profit. We are here to help roasters, not replace them,” he says.

Wiesinger says by empowering small businesses with AI-powered tools like Cropster Cafe and Cropster Roast, it enables them to thrive and rival the cost-cutting and efficiency practices of larger companies. “AI provides small coffee businesses with the ability to surface historical information and make better, data-driven decisions, like never before, which leads to increased profits, and better margins,” he says.

“The Cropster AI suite can gift small coffee businesses with a competitive edge to make smarter choices, resulting in a more successful and efficient business,” Wiesinger says.

Wiesinger sees the technology as a way to bring the industry to new heights, both economically, and practically.

“We should strive to take away those things that are just unnecessary work and that a computer can do way better,” he says. “It’s ensuring that the things that are keeping businesses profitable are built upon and made stronger. Our job is not to come in and take away roaster’s jobs, our job is to help roasters to enjoy the process and ultimately make their life better.”

Wiesinger says the future of Cropster is focusing on improving automation tools and reducing waste potential everywhere throughout the coffee production chain with the power of AI.

“It’s really important for us to remove repetitive work and freeing up time for to focus on work that is not just relevant, but that we as humans thrive in. Our focus is on making better automation tools, but also seeing how we can reduce waste,” he says.

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This article was first published in the March/April 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report. 

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