A view from the back of "LettuceBot 1" at work in a field thinning lettuce. The darker squares are thinned zones, where precise sprayers have applied fertilizer to remove unwanted plants. LettuceBot 1 is Blue River Technology's first generation of precise field robotics technology, designed to see plants, make decisions and precisely thin lettuce beds in real time.
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The food gap is becoming one of the world's biggest challenges. According to the United Nations, farmers must grow 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed the world's population. Founded in 2011, Blue River Technology is a small business in Mountain View, Calif., that's helping solve this challenge. The company merges robotics, computer vision and machine learning to change the way food is grown and to lift yields from every acre of farmland. Blue River's first technology, called LettuceBot 1, is a robot that intelligently and precisely thins lettuce fields.
Lee Redden, a National Science Foundation (NSF) principal investigator and a founder of Blue River, is leading a research team that's developing robots that use computer vision to recognize and identify the needs of plants and take appropriate action in real time, even in rugged agricultural conditions. For example, the robots can determine whether a crop needs thinning, then spray a killing agent with precision to rid excess plants and thin the field.
Funding from NSF's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program (grant IIP 11-43463) played a key role in building a team and these machines. Blue River is now operating its precise field robotics as a commercial service and is beginning to develop new concepts that serve its vision: Advanced technology for better agriculture.
A video of the robots in action in the field can be viewed Here. To learn more about Blue River Technology, visit their website Here. (Date of Image: 2013) [Image 2 of 17 related images. See Image 3.]