Slack’s chat tools has gotten popular enough that many startups and tech companies have built their own integrations, while others have raised millions to connect systems like sales software over it. But far from Silicon Valley, chatbots are now coming for less sexy industries as far flung as machines that help companies with their wasted food.
In the back of grocery store locations and convenience stores, you might find something called an aerobic digester. Essentially a large box, the digester helps companies dispose of and break down organic food matter cheaper and faster than it can take to ship it out to a landfill. One of the companies in that business is BioHiTech, a small company trading on the OTC Markets that counts the Federal Bureau of Prisons as its largest customer. BioHiTech brings in about $1.5 million in revenue a year, so the company can’t afford a large development team. But the group it does have, of five engineers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, use Amazon Web Services to run their infrastructure supporting about 400 of the digester devices on the cloud.
Three years ago, BioHiTech CEO Frank E. Celli decided that he wanted his hardware to be “smart,” collecting data on the food waste they processed. Those engineers under CTO Bill Kratzer began going in and connecting sensors to each device, then used machine learning products they could get off the shelf to turn on the data spigot. The company’s collected trillions of pieces of data since, says Kratzer. “You get huge sample sizes, so you can start looking at trends and spotting outliers for customers.” That could be which suppliers’ food are getting tossed out the most, or insights for the supply chain based on what’s getting spoiled. “If you’re buying tomatoes from five different vendors, paying a dollar a pound for each, but one vendor is generating 20% more waste, that vendor’s price isn’t really a dollar,” says Celli.
Of course, there are plenty of software options for grocery stores and retailers to track that data at the point of sale. But BioHiTech’s end point of what gets thrown out can offer different perspective while closing the loop, the company believes.
Ultimately what BioHiTech is building goes beyond food waste. Celli’s bigger ambition is to become a player in the fast-growing Internet of Things with his company’s cloud product, which it calls Alto. Hook up a sensor or small mobile device to any type of industrial hardware, and BioHiTech can monitor its use to spot outages or check on volume. On the back end, BioHiTech keeps Slack channels to track them, meaning they can query any device remotely from their phones.