PHOTO CREDITS: BBC
Alphabet – Google’s parent company – has developed prototype Buggy robots with the ability to inspect plants and help farmers improve their crop production. These robots will roll through the fields on an upright pillar with a goal to collect useful amounts of data about the growth of crops.
While farmers have information about the soil content and weather, the Buggy robots are developed to notice how the crops are growing and responding to the environment.
Elliott Grant, the Project Lead Director, said, “We hope that better tools will enable the agriculture industry to transform how food is grown.” The team says its main goal is to address the world’s increasing need for food and the sustainability of growing it.
“What if every single plant could be monitored and given exactly the nutrition it needed?
What if we could untangle the genetic and environmental drivers of crop yield?”
A part of Alphabet’s X Company called Project Mineral aims to create world-changing technology from “moonshot” ideas.
“Over the past few years the plant Buggy has trundled through strawberry fields in California and soybean fields in Illinois, gathering high-quality images of each plant and counting and classify each berry and every bean in it”
The buggy robot is a beancounter that can also record data such as plant height, leaf area, and fruit size. All the data collected is given to machine learning systems trying to spot patterns and insights which would be used for the development of plants.
Ian Drew, technology company founder, stated that “Putting robots in the fields makes an awful lot of sense. Having robots is really efficient and effective.” Checking for bugs, making sure plants were planted and picked at the right time, and even picking weeds or moving fences were possibilities, he added. “Farmers are marginal most of the time and so 1%, 2%, 5% efficiency is a huge gain for them, and anything that can do that for them will be taken up right away.”
But there are downsides to all of this, such as national interest and data security. “Data security is a must because the last thing you want to have is somebody hijacks your farm”
Mineral stated that it was already working with breeders and farmers in Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. The company however has not given the date of the robot to be launched as a commercial product.
ARTICLE: EJAZ SHAIKH
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH