Unknown to many of us, quite a few parts of the world suffer from famine and food shortage due to droughts. You don’t have to look far – just this week the Government of India has declared eight Indian states as drought affected. In light of this situation, the world is essentially trying to find a solution to the food shortage in such areas and the answer lies in drought resistant crops – crops that grow with little water or in low humidity. Researchers from University of Missouri are trying to make that happen with the help of robotics.
The overall goal of the research is to find drought resistant strains of crop and cross breed them with popular varieties to increase drought resisting capabilities in them. To do this, they are using two robotics platforms –Vinobot and Vinoculer. While the first one is an autonomous ground vehicle, the second is a mobile observation tower. Check out the actual demo below:
How does it work?
The system uses a two-pronged approach to this problem. The tower is used to scan a broad range of 60 feet and identify zones experiencing greater environmental stress than the others. The mobile bot, on the other hand, is used to gather physical data on individual plants that is used to reconstruct a 3D image.
According to Professor Gui DeSouza, The Vinobot has has three different sets of sensors to measure three different parameters namely humidity, temperature, and light intensity at different angles. All of this data helps in a task called phenotyping, that identifies the performance of a particular strain of crop.
The idea is to identify the crop families that are doing better under stress than other families, and then cross breed them with other families to generate healthier and more resilient crops. The entire idea is built to be easy to set up and use. They are even developing an autonomous version of the Vinobot.
This project is a perfect example of how technology can be put to use (with the right kind of effort) to solve major world problems that we have been struggling with. This is definitely not an instant answer to world hunger, but helps with taking steps in the right direction, which can be the key to surviving our own population explosion.