Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has unveiled prototypes of robots built to inspect crops in a field in order to help improve crop yields for farmers. The buggies roll through fields on pillars and collect huge amounts of data regarding crop growth. The project is called Project Mineral and it aims to develop cutting-edge technology to address the world’s increasing need for food and growth sustainability.
Project lead Elliott Grant said: “We hope that better tools will enable the agriculture industry to transform how food is grown”.
“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?”
Farmers may already have information about soil content or the weather. Project Mineral is designed to see how plants actually grow and respond to their environment. The buggies also record information such as plant height, leaf area and fruit size.
“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,” the company said.
The data collected is plugged on to a machine-learning system to gleam patterns and insights useful to farmers. Data security has also been essential at every step for Project Mineral, but the bigger question may be – who owns this data? The big data behind this may be very important to governments and they may want to have control over how that is used and who gets access to it.
Project Mineral said it has been already working with farmers in Argentina, Canada, South Africa and the US, but there is no explicit timeline or plan to release it as a commercial product yet.