Kids Making a Difference: Neil Deshmukh, Founder of PlantumAI

Neil Deshmukh, Founder of PlantumAI

At just 16 years of age, Neil created an app called PlantumAI to help farmers in developing countries identify and treat crop disease. Neil was inspired during a 2016 trip to India where he visited the farm where his grandfather was working. He realized that farmers were spraying their crops with a multitude of pesticides in an effort to eliminate any chance of disease. The pesticides were ending up everywhere, including in the river – the water supply for many people. Convinced that technology could help, Neil spent the next year developing his app.

He returned to India for field testing and secured a partnership with plant pathologists at Akola Agriculture University, who agreed to help farmers use the app. So far, they have analyzed more than 1,000 crop disease instances. Neil continues to finetune his app, which is currently helping farmers across 12 villages address problems using fewer pesticides. “My dream is to change the world using technology – to make it better for people everywhere, in every class of life,” says Neil. “I want to make a difference.”

We are thrilled to have Neil as a Wonder Crate Kid and ask him a few questions about making an impact.

1. What positive impact do you hope to have in the world?

My main goal is to make lives better across the world through technology, specifically for underserved populations. There are millions of people that are not able to access many of the innovations that we take for granted, which is a major problem: if a solution isn’t getting into the hands of the people that truly need it the most, it is not able to make an impact. 

By working to develop cheap solutions to basic fundamental problems, I hope to make people’s lives better.

2. How are you doing it?

For many years, I thought it would be impossible for me, a kid, to make the change I wanted to see in the world; but, I soon realize that I could, through technology. I could create programs to detect diseases, help blind people see again by describing their environment and look into the future to predict trends, biophysical and economic. I’ve worked on many projects to utilize technology to make the lives of underserved peoples a little bit easier. 

One of my first, and most intensive, endeavors is PlantumAI. I founded PlantumAI in the fall of 2017, after witnessing the struggles of farmers who have to combat crop disease. PlantumAI utilizes Artificial Intelligence technology to augment farmers in developing areas, providing them with tools to identify/treat crop diseases, advising them on optimal planting and harvesting times in a greatly-changing environment, and linking them to local universities for communication. All the farmer needs to do is snap an image of the crop. PlantumAI will process the data, providing a preliminary analysis, and send the image to the local university for final analysis by the plant pathology students. It also provides advice, based on environmental values, about crop planting/harvesting advice, and alerts farms if there is a disease spreading in their area.  It solves three primary problems faced by farmers in developing areas: crop disease, overpesticide use, and changing climates. Crop disease is a significant problem because an infection can completely devastate the harvest of a farmer, greatly reducing their profits, along with reducing the amount of food for their area. In this regard, farmers are under constant pressure to achieve a plentiful harvest every year, which results in them using a large number of toxic pesticides whenever a disease is noticed on their crops. These pesticides can cause many health problems, and damage ecosystems.

For the last two years that PlantumAI has been in place, more than 1500 crop disease instances have been detected and processed. It’s fantastic to see my app assisting 12 villages and many, many farmers within those villages, with 23 farms outside of those villages, and it is extremely gratifying that many farmers can provide crops for their areas more reliably, while also reducing their use of toxic pesticides.

One of my current projects is called BayMax, which, essentially, is a low-cost personal healthcare assistant. It utilizes machine learning algorithms to identify medical issues automatically through a series of automated tests, and is able to detect, cardiac, cognitive, dermatological, and symptomatic issues. It then formats the data in a way that optimizes patient triage and analysis, allowing for healthcare systems to become more efficient in areas where medical facilities are less prevalent. I have worked on a wide number of other research projects involving automation of medical analysis, including detecting/identifying cells, predicting Parkinson’s Disease progression, analyzing medicine reactions, and more.

Overall, all of my projects, all of my work, is targeted towards the singular goal of helping underserved people around the world.

3. What character traits have been important to achieving your goals?

What I have realized is that everyone brings their own personality, passions, and traits into their endeavors that allow them to make the change they want to see.

As for me, I believe one trait that has been integral, is my determination. If there is a problem that has been left unsolved, I will stop at nothing until there is a solution. Compassion also allows me to view a problem from all sides, ensuring that all parties involved benefit. Both of these traits play into one another, and I make sure that I fully understand the situation before continuing further. There are always periods where it is hard to remain optimistic, but it is always important to remain so, it is the fuel for all of my endeavors.

I am confident that I will continue to serve and develop solutions to problems for people around the world. And I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Click here to watch his video.

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