Robots with Green Thumbs

Could blending living and artificial systems help make agriculture more eco-friendly?

What started out as an undergraduate summer project at the Distributed Robotics Lab (DRL), part of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, has now turned into a long-term plan to
develop an autonomous gardening system.

DRL researcher Jason Dorfman explains the concept: ¨We consider plants, pots and robots to be systems with different levels of mobility, sensing, actuation, and autonomy. As a whole, the system can be considered a mixed artificial/natural society, which transforms energy, water and nutrients into produce.¨

Within this unusual garden pots and plants are enhanced with computation, sensing, and communication, while autonomous robots cruise around, sensitive to the needs of the vegetation. This system allows for ¨precision agriculture¨per say; water and nutrients are delivered exactly when needed and  fruit is harvested optimally.

The team at DRL hopes that this type of system may be implemented to reduce water consumption and pesticide use on farms and to make plant populations  less prone to depleting the soil of specific nutrients. They also envision applications for this in green architecture, whereby fruits and vegetables can be cultivated on the inside and outside of buildings, increasing energy efficiency of the building.

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