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Google turns farmer with project Mineral, its robots are growing soybeans and strawberries

Alphabet's X team has brought in technology that studies plant traits to help breeders focus on what crops to grow sustainably.

twitter-logoIndia Today Tech | October 13, 2020 | Updated 12:25 IST

Highlights

  • Alphabet X team’s current venture, Mineral focuses on sustainable food production and farming at large scales.
  • The team has designed a prototype buggy that it calls plant buggy to study plant traits in fields that will help breeders.
  • The main aim of the project is feeding of Earth’s growing population, and producing crops more efficiently by understanding growth cycles and weather patterns.

Google's parent company, Alphabet is working on a sustainable agriculture project called Mineral. The project is being carried out by Alphabet's X team, the moonshot factory, that has designed projects like Tidal, which focuses on protecting the ocean and sustainable living.

The current venture Mineral focuses on sustainable food production and farming at large scales, with a focus on "developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more," according to project lead Elliott Grant.

The project Mineral, which recently got its name was announced in 2019. The main aim of the project is feeding of Earth's growing population, and producing crops more efficiently by understanding growth cycles and weather patterns. This project can help breeders understand and predict how different varieties of plants respond to their environments. In this way, farmers can focus on areas that require special attention rather than mapping the wide fields.

For this very task, the Mineral team has developed a prototype plant buggy that rolls through the fields, inspecting crops up close. According to Mineral's website, "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. To date, the team has analyzed a range of crops like melons, berries, lettuce, oilseeds, oats and barley—from sprout to harvest."


Minerals technology and the plant buggy which is environmentally responsible and adaptable, as per Mineral, helps study plant traits.

Mineral's website notes that through the technology it brings, it hopes to also reduce the usage of precious resources like water, fertilisers, and explore sophisticated growing techniques like intercropping and cover cropping that restore soil fertility and increase productivity. The project will also hope to manage land and plant life as the effects of climate change complicate ecosystems.


"Our project started with the insight that in order to grow food sustainably on a global scale, new tools will be needed to manage the staggering complexity of farming. Alongside experts in the field — literally and figuratively — we've been developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more," Elliott Grant in a blog post noted. "From strawberry fields in California to soybean fields in Illinois, we've been learning about crops from sprout to harvest, so we can find new ways to help breeders and growers understand how plants grow and interact with their environment."


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