[ExI] Alphabet’s New Moonshot Is to Transform How We Grow Food

John Grigg possiblepaths2050 at gmail.com
Sat Oct 17 09:41:50 UTC 2020

"With the global population growing while climate change begins to impact
our ability to produce food, many are calling for a 21st-century Green
Revolution. In short, we need to figure out better ways to grow food, and

This week a tech powerhouse joined the effort. Google parent company
Alphabet’s X division—internally called “the moonshot factory”—announced a
project called Mineral <https://x.company/projects/mineral/>, launched to
develop technologies for a more sustainable, resilient, and productive food

The way we grow crops now, the project page explains, works pretty well,
but it’s not ideal. Dozens or hundreds of acres of a given crop are treated
the same across the board, fertilized and sprayed with various chemicals to
kill pests and weeds. We get the yields we needs with this method, but at
the same time we’re progressively depleting the soil by pumping it full of
the same chemicals year after year, and in the process we’re making our own
food less nutrient-rich. It’s kind of a catch-22; this is the best way to
grow the most food, but the quality of that food is getting worse.

But maybe there’s a better way—and Mineral wants to find it.

Like many things nowadays, the key to building something better is data.
Genetic data, weather pattern data, soil composition and erosion data,
satellite data… The list goes on. As part of the massive data-gathering
that will need to be done, X introduced what it’s calling a “plant buggy”
(if the term makes you picture a sort of baby stroller for plants, you’re
not alone…).

It is in fact not a stroller, though. It looks more like a platform on
wheels, topped with solar panels and stuffed with cameras, sensors, and
software. It comes in different sizes and shapes so that it can be used on
multiple types of crops (inspecting tall, thin stalks of corn, for example,
requires a different setup than short, bushy soybean plants). The buggy
will collect info about plants’ height, leaf area, and fruit size, then
consider it alongside soil, weather, and other data.

Having this type of granular information, Mineral hopes, will allow farmers
to treat different areas of their fields or even specific plants
individually rather than using blanket solutions that may be good for some
plants, but bad for others."

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