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Alphabet’s latest X project is a crop-sniffing plant buggy

Alphabet’s X lab, the former division of Google that launched the Waymo self-driving car unit and other ambitious projects, has officially announced its latest “moonshot”: a computational agriculture project the company calls Mineral.

The project focuses on sustainable food production and large-scale agriculture, with a focus on “developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on discoveries in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more,” according to the project leader Elliott Grant.

A blog post outlining the project̵

7;s vision says that Mineral, which now has an official name but may have been secretly launched around 2017 according to Grant’s LinkedIn page, will seek to steer technology towards solving sustainability issues. . These include feeding the Earth’s growing population and producing crops more efficiently through understanding growth cycles and weather patterns. The project also hopes to manage land and plant life as the effects of climate change complicate ecosystems.

“To feed the planet’s growing population, global agriculture will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than the previous 10,000, at a time when climate change is making our crops less productive,” the new website reads. by Mineral.

Photo: alphabet

“Just as the microscope has led to a transformation in the way diseases are detected and managed, we hope that better tools will enable the agricultural industry to transform the way food is grown,” explains Grant. “In recent years my team and I have developed the tools of what we call computational agriculture, in which farmers, ranchers, agronomists and scientists will rely on new types of hardware, software and sensors to collect and analyze information on the complexity of the world. vegetable. “

One of the first of these tools is a new prototype resembling a four-wheeled rover, what the Mineral team calls a bug of plants, study crops, soil and other environmental factors using a mix of cameras, sensors and other equipment. edge. The team then uses the collected data and combines it with satellite imagery and weather data to create predictive models of how plants will grow using machine learning and other AI training techniques. Mineral’s team says they are already using prototypes to study soybeans in Illinois and strawberries in California.

“For the past several years, the plant’s stroller has traveled the strawberry fields in California and soybean fields in Illinois, collecting high-quality images of each plant and counting and ranking each berry and bean. To date, the team has analyzed a range of crops such as melons, berries, lettuce, oilseeds, oats and barley, from sprout to harvest, ”Mineral’s website reads.

Grant says Mineral’s team will work with ranchers and growers, farmers and other agricultural experts to find practical and beneficial solutions. But the project has a high ambition. And Alphabet’s track record in that department is strong. Waymo is now a leading self-driving car company that has just further opened its fleet of self-driving vehicles to Phoenix residents. The Loon Connectivity Division, which uses floating balloons to provide Internet access, has also partnered with telecommunications around the world.

“What if every single plant could be monitored and given exactly the nutrition it needed? What if we could untangle the genetic and environmental factors of crop yield? “Grant writes about Mineral’s distant goals.” What if we could measure the subtle ways a plant responds to its environment? What if we could match a crop variety to a plot of land for optimal sustainability? we we couldn’t ask and answer all the questions and, thanks to our partners, we didn’t need them. Breeders and growers around the world have collaborated with us to conduct experiments to find new ways to understand the plant world. ”

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