Five months ago, computer scientists and horticulturists were invited to a one-of-a-kind competition to grow their own cherry tomatoes over the course of six months in the Wageningen University & Research (WUR) autonomous greenhouse (Bleiswijk, The Netherlands).
The University gave them their own greenhouse compartments. Contestants had to supply their own sensors and cameras.
Starting December (in the actual growing experiment), participants will grow their plants through coupling data from the greenhouse compartment with their own ICT/models/machine learning algorithms for controls, after which they send those control settings back to WUR’s greenhouse climate computer for WUR analysis of augmented yield production.
The winners, decided by a panel horticulture experts from WUR among others, will be the group that produces the most prolific, tastiest tomatoes cultivated through AI.
The overarching aim, the organizers of the competition say, is to eventually develop an autonomous AI control system for overcoming labor shortages in order to help feed a growing world population.
Greenhouse growing is a complicated procedure, with farmers constantly calibrating and readjusting probabilities that include crop, climate, and irrigation set-up for healthy produce. Artificial intelligence technology not only helps growers be in two places at once, but also helps them work proactively, instead of reactively, by solving plant growth issues in real time.
In this WUR project, growers use 3D imagery and environmental sensors that monitor the crops from anywhere on handheld devices. They set the environmental and growing parameters, and set alarms if conditions change. Growers can also “go back in time” to compare past conditions with current crop conditions. All this data gets plugged into the WUR database for later analysis and selection for the best growing conditions.
In 2018, five international teams took part in WUR’s first edition of Autonomous Greenhouses and grew remotely-controlled cucumbers.
This year, WUR’s contestants will be the ones to grow its first AI-grown tomatoes – and add that achievement to their resumes.