Mineral Crop-Inspecting Robots Unveiled by Google

A photograph of a field at sunset shows three bridge-shaped robots - a central bar suspended by two pillars - drive over rows of crops
Mineral

Revealed by Google’s parent company Alphabet, prototype robots can now inspect individual plants in a field to further help farmers improve their crop yields. With an end goal of collecting large amounts of data to show how crops grow, robot buggies roll through fields on upright pillars that enable them to fly over plants without disrupting them as the result of a project known as Project Mineral. Part of Alphabet’s X company, Project Mineral seeks to create that technology that will change the world using radical “moonshot” ideas.

As stated in a blog post by project lead Elliott Grant “We hope that better tools will enable the agriculture industry to transform how food is grown.” While current tools don’t give farmers the kind of information they need, the team claims that its main goal is to address and help solve the world’s increasing demand for food as well as the sustainability of growing it. In a written blog by Mr. Grant “What if every single plant could be monitored and given exactly the nutrition it needed?” and “What if we could untangle the genetic and environmental drivers of crop yield?”

A modern version of the buggy rolls through a huge field of low-height green crops, stretching as far as the eye can see
Mineral

Through the words of a company statement, this buggy robot was built to observe how plants were “actually growing and responding to their environment.” The statement then goes on to read “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 classifying every berry and every bean.” In addition, the buggy can also record information on things such as a plants height, fruit size, or leaf area. All this data is then plugged into a machine-learning system in order to try spotting patterns and other useful insights of use for farmers.

A technology company founder and chairman Ian Drew Mentions “Putting robots in fields makes an awful lot of sense.” Mr. Drew then goes on to mention how “Having robots is really efficient and effective.”

One of the most noteworthy drawbacks and skeptics with regards to the idea stem from those concerned about data security, more specifically the question of who will own the data. While Mineral says that it is currently working with breeders and farmers in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and South Africa, there is no explicit timeframe for the buggy to be released as a commercial product.

It is with all of this said; however, that this is certainly a development to make note of, as solving the hunger crisis and the increasing food demand as our society continues to grow is paramount to our future successes, making this buggy one an integral part in making a better tomorrow for all.

A man works on a prototype buggy in a field at night - this version looking like a large table mounted on bicycle wheels, with computer kit on the flat surface
Mineral

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