Alphabet Inc.-owned X Development LLC, known for its so-called “moonshot” technologies, today launched a new division that’s designed to improve farming.
Called “Mineral,” the new division is the result of an X project previously referred to as “The Computational Agriculture Project.” Mineral launches with an autonomous robotic plant buggy designed to analyze crops.
The buggy is powered by solar panels and autonomously crosses a field, examining plants with an array of cameras and sensors. In conjunction with artificial intelligence and external inputs such as satellite, weather and soil data, the buggy can identify patterns and issues with crops.
“By combining data collected from the field, like plant height, leaf area and fruit size, with environmental factors like soil health and the weather, Mineral’s software tools can help breeders understand and predict how different varieties of plants respond to their environments,” the Mineral website explains. “By mapping and imaging plants in the field, growers can troubleshoot and treat individual plants instead of entire fields, reducing both their costs and environmental impact.”
Environmental friendliness is central to the concept with sustainability key to the thinking behind the buggy. In being able to identify issues with plants, the idea is that farmers can better manage the use of fertilizer, chemicals and water while also being able to explore growing techniques that can restore soil fertility and increase productivity. The buggy can also assist in providing information on more varieties of biodiverse plants, assisting farmers to identify varieties that are resilient and productive in the face of climate change.
“To feed the planet’s growing population, global agriculture will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than in the previous 10,000 — at a time when climate change is making our crops less productive,” Mineral claims.
The devices are currently being used to study soybeans in Illinois and strawberries in California. Previously it analyzed other crops including berries, lettuce, oilseeds, oats, barley and melons.
The debut of Mineral comes after Waymo LLC, another previous Alphabet X project, launched its first driverless ride-hailing service to the public in Phoenix, Arizona last week.
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