Mar 24, 2021
Computational Agriculture - Alphabet’s (Google) Latest X-Project
Two years ago, Alphabet’s (Google) X-Labs initiated one of their infamous and far reaching “moonshot” projects focused on growing food sustainably on global scale. As you might expect, the project has been, and is kept pretty secret, but the company recently unveiled some details about the project through a company blog article (Grant, 2020) and their newly established website (https://x.company/projects/mineral/). The project is called “Mineral” and according to project lead Elliot Grant, the team has been working “alongside experts in the field – literally and figuratively…developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more”.
One of the tools the team has developed is a self-propelled “plant buggy” equipped with multiple cameras, sensors, GPS and other electronic equipment (Fig. 1). 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.” Stated objectives of Mineral’s software are to combine and analyze data collected from the field, soil health information and weather data to 1) predict how different varieties of plants respond to their environments, 2) allow growers to treat individual plants with fertilizers and pesticides to optimize production and reduce inputs and 3) help growers predict the size and yield of their crops.
It is exciting that a cutting-edge tech company like Alphabet is taking on an agricultural project like this. It will be fascinating to see what technical breakthroughs and solutions the company will be able to achieve for all crops, including vegetables.
Grant, E. 2020. Mineral: Bringing the era of computational agriculture to life. X Development LLC blog article. Mountain View, CA: X Development LLC. Available at https://blog.x.company/mineral-bringing-the-era-of-computational-agriculture-to-life-427bca6bd56a.
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