AI News, Robots are helping researchers work to end world hunger

Robots are helping researchers work to end world hunger

At a time when many people are concerned about the potentially negative impact of robotics on individuals' lives and livelihoods, researchers at the University of Missouri are relying on robots for a project that's decidedly pro-human: fighting world hunger.

To develop 3D images of corn plants in the field, the research team developed a combination approach of a mobile sensor tower and autonomous robot vehicles equipped with three levels of sensors and an additional robotic arm.

Measurements taken from the tower alert researchers if plants are under stress such as heat or drought, and the tower then signals the mobile robot to go to a particular area of the field and collect data on individual plants.

'We develop robots that can extract phenotypes of plants in the field and correlate those traits against plant behavior, resistance to abiotic stresses, and ultimately to yielding,' said Gui DeSouza, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the university and head of the research team.

The research effort began in 2012, and in 2014 the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the university a $20 million grant as part of a multi-institutional consortium to study climate change and how corn maintains plant growth during drought conditions.

University of Missouri uses robot to analyze crops

Developing drought-tolerant corn that makes efficient use of available water will be vital to sustain the estimated global population of 9 billion by 2050.

Gui DeSouza, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and colleagues and students in his Vision-Guided and Intelligent Robotics (ViGIR) Laboratory partnered with researchers such as Felix Fritschi, an associate professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and Todd Mockler, a principal investigator with the Danforth Plant Science Center, to study the effects of climate change on crops in Missouri.

Technology adds valueThe engineering and plant science research team developed a combination, two-pronged approach using a mobile sensing tower as well as a robot vehicle equipped with three levels of sensors.

The tower inspects a 60-foot radius of a given field to identify areas affected by environmental stresses, while the vehicle collects data on individual plants.

Researchers use a pair of robotics platforms in hopes of developing drought-resistant crops

A team of researchers at the University of Missouri are using a pair of robotics platforms and a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a system for identifying crop strains resistant to heat, drought and flood.

The system developed by the team is comprised of two primary robots — a mobile tower that stands watch at the edge of the crop and a roaming ‘bot deployed by the system to take a closer look.

The resulting data includes 3D scans of the plants (corn and sorghum at present), along with temperature, humidity and light intensity readings taken at different heights — each of which tend to vary greatly, due to an increasing tendency to plant crops closer together.

“The idea is to correlate how the plant is developing with the family, so we understand which family is tolerating the stress better than the others and ultimately to identify the gene that makes those families more or less resistant to those stresses,” says DeSouza.

Fighting world hunger: Robotics aid in the study of corn and drought tolerance

Gui DeSouza, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and colleagues and students in his Vision-Guided and Intelligent Robotics (ViGIR) Laboratory partnered with researchers such as Felix Fritschi, an associate professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and Todd Mockler, a principal investigator with the Danforth Plant Science Center to study the effects of climate change on crops in Missouri.

The engineering and plant science research team developed a combination, two-pronged approach using a mobile sensing tower as well as a robot vehicle equipped with three levels of sensors.

The tower inspects a 60-foot radius of a given field to identify areas affected by environmental stresses, while the vehicle collects data on individual plants.

Corn-Tracking Robot May Save Us from Starving in the Future

With the aspirations of developing a drought-tolerant species of corn, researchers from the University of Missouri are using an autonomous robotic system to study how corn plants adapt to changing climatic conditions, such as hotter temperatures or reduced rainfall.

The team’s study, recently published in the journal Sensors, describes the development of Vinobot, an autonomous robot, and Vinoculer, a mobile observation tower, which work together in tandem to collect mass amounts of corn growth data in the field, both from individual plants, as well as the entire field as a whole.

With the observation tower Vinoculer, which is equipped with a 360-degree robotic vision system, the team can identify specific areas of the field that might be affected by certain environmental or biological stresses, and send in the Vinobot for a closer look.

Phenotype refers to the combination of observable characteristics found in any living organism — in this case, plants — which are an expression of their genetic makeup but can be influenced by environmental factors like changing temperature or decreasing water levels.

Of course, this kind of selective breeding is nothing new: it’s been practiced in agriculture for millennia by farmers, often through a slow process of trial and error in order to gradually enhance desired traits in plants.

While it may seem paradoxical that automation is now coming to one of the last few activities that still help connect humans to the land, it seems that the very real urgency of developing more resilient food crops will no doubt help to reinforce the idea that robots may become a necessary tool in agriculture — at least for the time being.