With a heavy reliance on fertilizers, pesticides, and valuable water supplies, it’s needless to say that our current farming practices are anything but environment-friendly. And with a growing population, agriculture’s effects on our climate are only expected to worsen in the next few decades.
In a bid to improve the way we feed our planet, a new project initiated by Alphabet’s X lab, a research and development laboratory founded by Google, is working to make sustainable agriculture to a whole new level.
Called Mineral, the project focuses on sustainable food production and its team has spent the last couple of years developing cutting-edge software and hardware to enable farmers to practice eco-friendly farming on a large scale. One of its most outstanding technologies involves a plant-inspecting buggy.
As the Mineral team highlights, one of the biggest problems of current agricultural practices is our reliance on a relatively small number of crop types. This makes the farmland vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate change, while also degrading the quality of the soil and its biodiversity.
Mineral sees an answer in what it calls “computational agriculture”, which involves tapping into high-tech gadgetry to allow farmers and grow more resilient crops in certain environments, and lessen reliance on fertilizers, pesticides, and water.
To help them in this ambitious endeavor, the team developed a prototype plant buggy that makes its way across a farmer’s field and uses smart sensors and many other advanced technologies to gather information on things like soil, historical crop data, and weather in different locations.
The electric buggy uses GPS, as well as mounted cameras and sensors, to locate each plant and monitor its health. This enables the buggy to analyze a variety of crops and gain detailed insights such as leaf and fruit size, plant height, and even bean counts.
In addition, the buggy is also fed data on weather and soil along with satellite imagery. Its AI software then makes sense of all this data to identify patterns and give farmers insights on their crops.
“Just as the microscope led to a transformation in how diseases are detected and managed, we hope that better tools will enable the agriculture industry to transform how food is grown,” says Elliott Grant, who leads the Mineral project at X.
Image source: X, the Moonshot Factory