By the time a farmer knows their crops are dying, it’s often too late. Caterpillars or viruses have preyed on their tomato and spinach plants. And the crops are gone.
A new robotic system, called Prospera, aims to save these plants. Using a network of cameras and sensors, it immediately detects invaders and knows when crops are sick. It then alerts and tells farmers exactly why through an app.
“The entire agriculture industry itself is due for an evolution,” Prospera CEO Daniel Koppel tells Tech Insider. “Farmers who are accustomed to making decisions based on instinct will be able to look to data, and deliver the freshest produce to the grocery store every harvest.”
The sensors collect hundreds of thousands of data points about plants’ health. These include issues with pests, diseases, nutrients, irrigation, and climate.
For example, in the photo below, the camera notices that phytophthora (a plant-killing mold) is on the leaves.
Caterpillars and mildew have messed with the chili peppers pictured below.
Prospera’s system also monitors and archives facts that affect plants’ nutrition, like temperature, pH, CO2, and oxygen.
Below, the top photo of tomato plants is what the naked eye sees, and the bottom photo is what Prospera’s bots see.
In the righthand key, ” mg” (in red) and “k” (in blue) signify magnesium and potassium deficiencies respectively. “Tuta” (in green) means there’s an infestation of tomato leaf miners — highly destructive insects that eat tomato plants.
The cameras monitor the plants 24-7, and when something’s wrong, they send photos and sensor data to the cloud. The system then analyzes the data, creates a summary on the app, and pings the farmer. The app also provides real-time data about the plants, even if they’re all healthy.
A rendering of a Prospera camera. Prospera
To install the system, Prospera just hooks the cameras to poles, and then sticks them in the ground along the farm. Solar panels and Wifi (or 3G data) power the system, which farmers purchase as an annual subscription. Koppel declined to reveal specific pricing.
Prospera’s cameras hang above the plants. Prospera
Using machine learning, Prospera’s system can predict when a plant might be at risk depending on the time of year or upcoming weather patterns.
This also means that the longer the bot’s system works on the farm and the more data it collects, the smarter it becomes.
“This offers the possibility of recognizing new strains of diseases before they become widespread,” Koppel says.
Founded in 2014, Prospera now works with some of the largest vegetable growers in the world, including ones that supply to Walmart and the British grocery giant Tesco. It’s also expanding to be orchards and vineyards ranging from 50 to 4,000 acres.
The tools to monitor farms haven’t changed much in the past few decades, but Prospera’s bots could change that.
“Farmers are still missing out on the critical component of seeing and knowing exactly what is happening to their crops at all times,” Koppel says.