Latest computer technology helps researchers listen to plants

Scientists from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and the University of Edinburgh are trialling new speckled computer technology on the Christmas crop of poinsettias from Pentland Plants Nursery.

The technology uses a range of sensors to wirelessly relay information back to a laboratory.

SAC plant pathologist Simon Oxley said: "We can check the temperature, light levels, moisture and nutrients around the plant along with the compost to make sure that everything is perfect for the plant to grow.

"With readings every minute, we can keep a close eye to make sure that the plants are kept in perfect condition ready for Christmas."

The project has been developed by the SAC, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and Pentland Plant Nursery.

It is the first time that speckled computer systems have been used in horticulture.

They have already been applied in medicine, where they can be used to monitor body movement or respiration.

The initial horticultural trial took place at the SAC and sensors were installed at Pentland in July.

Data are currently being compiled, but the system is expected to offer growers a more detailed picture of their crops and could potentially deliver light and energy savings when linked with automatic glasshouse and environment systems.

Pentland technical manager Jean Repecka said: "Poinsettias represent a big investment in time and expertise. The new technology offers the prospect of better control over inputs and a deeper understanding of how plants are thriving.

"It should raise an alarm if you get spots that are under-watered or that sort of thing."

The technology could also be applied in the retail sector, where it would be used to monitor garden centre polytunnels and planterias. 

It will learn about the daily pattern of temperatures, light and watering and will send a message to the grower if the plants are not properly cared for.

University of Edinburgh computer scientist and speckled computing consortium director DK Aryind said: "It is gratifying to see the outcome of our basic research in speckled computing now enabling precision horticulture with the potential for saving energy.

"Specks are finding new applications in a variety of other areas such as monitoring the natural environment and optimising energy usage in buildings."

The project is supported by the SAC New Technology Fund.

Research Consortium in Speckled Computing is funded by the Scottish Funding Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop miniature computing devices called specks that combine sensing, processing and wireless networking capabilities.

 

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