Showing posts with label agricultural technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label agricultural technology. Show all posts

Top Of The Crops: New Aeroponics Farm In New Jersey To Revolutionize Urban Farming

As we continue to re-think our old societal conventions regarding even the most time-honored traditions of humanity, we begin to find ways to majorly improve on some techniques that have lasted for thousands of years. Conventional farming has recently joined this upheaval, with new tactics and layouts producing more yield than field-workers of yore may have ever thought possible. One such installation is set to make records near the NYC area…

The greatest salad bar of all time, or the start of a new farming paradigm?
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The Good, The Bad, And The Drugly: Tech's Green Scene, 4/20/16

If you happen to partake in a certain combustible, leafy green type of relaxing refreshment, today is known as the default holiday in which it is particularly celebrated (as opposed to how some use it during all the other major holidays...or days...)  Here's a look at some of the better e-ideas surrounding cannabis culture, and one that's only half-baked...

A very different type of "green" technology will be discussed today.
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Reforestation Is The Bomb: Retrofitted Military Cargo Planes Help Plant Trees

Earth needs trees, but humans and our pesky usurpation keep cutting them down.  But what if we could use that incessant drive to conquer as a force for good forestry?  Taking over land is always a major objective of warfare, so why not use a weapon of war to help improve vast swaths of land?

Botany has never looked so badass.
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On The Mooove: Beef Tallow Biofuel Helps Propel Navy Ships

The U.S. Navy is the mightiest fleet in the world, but with the tides turning on fossil fuels, how will they expect to stay sustainable in the 21st century?  The answer is fat.  Gallons and gallons of it.

It's like how you eat burgers for fuel...
except mixed with petroleum and multiplied by a warship.
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Cultivate This: New Indoor Garden "The Grove" Gives You A Mini Ecosystem

Want a garden, but you're stuck in a postmodern (or pre-modern) cube/tomb of an apartment with no sunlight and certainly no arable land?  Worry not, for a new invention called The Grove can bring you a relative abundance of plant life, all in the comfort of your own home...

If you traded all your bookshelves for e-reading, here's your perfect futuristic home furnishing.
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Forests, Not Firebombing: New Drones Could Plant A Billion Trees Per Year

While just last week we discussed drones aiding and abetting criminals in prison, now it's time to look at one of the nicer sides of our flying friends.  An ex-engineer from NASA now intends to use drones to plant over a billion trees a year...

Spread the love (and the oxygen!)
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Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Farmers And Internet Enthusiasts Do...For Their Wi-Fi

Like it or hate it (although you probably still secretly like it, at least a little bit), the internet is a major force in modern human life.  Yet we hyper-connected humans continue to forget that there are wide swaths of this planet that slip through the net of the World Wide Web.  Some propose to remedy this with signal-beaming satellites, or even drones, but now, a new and ecologically-interesting idea has manifested: using sensors placed on animals to spread connectivity.  Can we turn a herd into a hotspot?

It's about time we replaced the old dial-up style of sheep.
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According to The Atlantic, some scientists are seriously into the idea.  Placing wi-fi sensors on animals like sheep or even reindeer could allow them to traverse rural areas (for reindeer, to venture further beyond where many humans are comfortable living) and spread the signal.  In addition to helping the information superhighway get a few more on-ramps, it could allow farmers to monitor things like pollution, flooding, or even keep tabs on the flock themselves (e-shepherding!)  This type of technological exploration could expand not only our knowledge of the natural world, but also expand all knowledge for the far-flung residents therein.

Thanks to the vastness but also relative modernity of Australia, experiments with such sensors are now being carried out there with sheep.  The small sensors, which are embedded in ear tags and are light enough not to perturb the animal, can operate independently but can also help form mesh networks.  This kind of rudimentary internet also serves to spread information (as the sensors "talk" to each other to recognize their presence and location) and can operate as a whole even if singular elements fail (because wild dogs often do some non-technological sensing of their own for a sheep-snack.)

This could be one big fuzzy mesh network.
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Greg Cronin, an Australian professor of animal welfare, explained that such attacks on sensor-bearing sheep could improve the hardships of shepherding, theorizing, “If you could pick the right sensor that identified behaviors that changed when sheep were under attack, it could trigger an alarm for the farmer.” While the technology is still undergoing trials, Cronin was enthusiastic about its eventual results. “We know we can do it but we still have to do the hard work to prove it,” he said.  According to the BBC, the idea has gained traction in rural Wales as well, including sensors that would be placed on inanimate set locations (such as rivers) to improve knowledge of overall farm conditions.

So, maybe your toaster isn't able to Tweet yet, and perhaps your pet piranha isn't getting far enough away to require a tracking device.  But for this early inception of the Internet Of Things (well, Internet Of Creatures, at least), man and beast might be able to share information in harmony.  Just don't give the sheep options to upload selfies every time they get a haircut.

"@BleatBox - Looking mad fly today.  Hit me up on Tinder."
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Solar Panels As Canal Covers? India Gathers Power, Saves Water, Solves Problems

The science of sustainable energy requires making more efficient means of storage and accessibility for your harvested power...but sometimes it can have bonus advantages, when properly plotted.  Unlike oil spills which contaminate massive swaths of ocean, or fracking which can cause a release of chemicals potent enough to set tap water afire, no one worries when there is a solar power leak (some people even pay for these raw materials...look at any tanning salon.)  Now, a community in India has made gathering solar energy an even more useful endeavor, thanks to positioning the solar panels over irrigation canals to thwart extra evaporation.

It's like the peanut butter and chocolate of conservation.
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According to Yahoo, in the Gujurat state of India, the booming business of solar power is setting precedents for the rest of the nation and likely the world.  By building solar panels over irrigation canals, communities are left not only with more free land space, but also contribute to the efficiency of their farming by not losing excess water to evaporation.  A plant in Vadodara which opened in October produces 10 MW of power thanks to 33,800 solar panels stretched across 3.6 km of irrigation canals (which it in turn powers the pumping distribution of.)  On a nice day, 50,000 electrical units (that's 50,000 hours of usage at 1,000 watts) are sent from the solar into the system.

While the canal-covering solar panels are more expensive to build,  they are easily accessed for cleaning and maintenance.  The water below will eventually tend to 4.45 million acres via some 75,000 km of canal throughout Gujurat and Rajasthan, known as the Sardar Sarovar project.  Already the Vadodara plant has made 16 hectares of land available, and is projected to conserve some 90 million liters of water per year.

The benefits add up:  the creation of the solar infrastructure also powers more jobs.
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As Vice magazine notes, there are a number of dually-useful elements to the project beyond the evaporation containment, including the solar panel conduits being kept cooler thanks to the water below, and also the lack of squabbling over land issues (the canals were utilitarian elements already in place, and adding to them disrupts neither the local environment nor the populace.)

Overall, the Indian government plans to gather 100 MW of power from canal-top photovoltaic panels by 2017.  By 2022, the nation intends to have over 10% of its total energy created by solar power.  The effort is not lost on the rest of the world.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently visited and remarked, "I saw more than glittering panels – I saw the future of India and the future of our world...I saw India's bright creativity, ingenuity and cutting-edge technology."

Crafty conservation can help fuel the future in ways we haven't even yet pondered.  The fact that a major nation has stepped up to address the power problems in an efficient and intelligent way brings hope for the rest of the world.  Maybe soon we can stop shooting off mountaintops and drilling beneath oceans to gather our energy.  Let's start using our power - and our methods of power collection - for good.

Yet another plus:  all that water saved from evaporation could be made potable for poverty-stricken regions.  Win, India.
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Mars (Salad) Bars: Fresh Greens On The Red Planet

Mars has been an attractive interplanetary target since the dawn of spaceflight, but now that the travel technology is nearly ready, how are we going to fully attend to the human elements of colonization?  Researchers in England have made one small step (well, bite) for mankind by planning to launch a crop of self-initiating lettuce to Mars.

Learn more at #LettuceOnMars.
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The tasty terraforming is planned to work like this:  during the slated Mars One robotic mission in 2018, a self-sustaining greenhouse will be launched from Earth (as part of an array of other science experiments.)  The garden will "hibernate" during the long travel to Mars, with lettuce seeds safely frozen and equipment powered down.

Upon arrival on Mars, the lander will provide a small amount of energy to help power and aid the heating elements of the garden, keeping the temperature between 21C and 24C.  The lettuce seeds will be fed with carbon dioxide extracted from the Martian atmosphere (which is rich with the gas), and given other nutrients via aeroponic sprayers.  This eliminates the need for the plants to be grown in conventional soil, and if successful, could prove to be viable for a host of other food flora to be grown on the red planet.

Image is not scientifically accurate, but you get the idea.
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Photographs sent back of the space salad will inform the scientists of success.  As any prospective human colonists on Mars as currently considered to be making a one-way trip, the need for a constant on-planet food supply will be of critical importance.

Project leader Suzanna Lucarotti, from the University of Southhampton, explained the many diverse elements of the idea, telling the Metro, "We have tackled diverse sets of engineering challenges, including aeroponic systems, bio filters, low-power gas pressurisation systems and fail-safe planetary protection systems and then integrated them all into one payload on a tight mass, power and cost budget."

It might not be filet mignon, but it's a good first step in sustaining our next generation of astro-adventurers.

After a while, anything is better than the usual space paste.  Here, two astronauts "enjoy" tubes of beet soup...wrapped in vodka labels.  Maybe if an experiment can grow potatoes, some distilling can take place...
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Fresh Crops From Water Drops: Spilling The Dirt On MIT's Soil-Free CityFarm

With city populations escalating abundantly, it's a challenge for futuristic farmers to figure out how to feed everyone with fresh ingredients.  Now, researchers at MIT believes they have solved this quandary, using an innovative new system that they call CityFarm.

As reported by, the soil-free CityFarm project uses hydroponic (water flow) and aeroponic (water misting) systems to grow a collection of crops, leaving the price tag and messiness of soil out of the urban equation.  Inventor Caleb Harper constructed a 7' by 30' plastic box in which he uses "pre-made weather" and is able to constantly monitor the plants' development, which is prodigious.  Thanks to the artificial light and carefully-calibrated plant care, CityFarm can grow enough food for 300 people in a single 30-day cycle.

Not only is the farm efficient and bountiful, it also saves resources.  CityFarm's method of growth uses up to 90% less water than conventional methods.  Harper believes eventually this could lead to a 98% reduction in agricultural water usage (making it ideal for water-deprived areas), as well as escalated nutritional value from the lack of pesticides and other soil contaminants.  CityFarm currently grows tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs in their successful style.

Pesky pesticides have nowhere to hide, as the plants' roots are fertilized with nutrients in water.
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“No one has proven an economically viable model for these kind of plant environments,” says Harper. “What I’m trying to do is kind of be the Linux for these environments — the person that creates the common language for this new area of food production.”

Harper's plans don't stop at just the idea of the farm being like programming for a computer.  He actually wants to create a program, in conjunction with MIT, that will act as "plant operating system software."  This could be launched at other locations, such as an upcoming new attempt in Detroit, or it might help to regulate CityFarm's new plans to build vertically.  A similar project is already underway in Japan.  According to their website, CityFarm's technology combines their hydroponics/aeroponics with 
"novel environmental, diagnostic and networked sensing, control automation, autonomous delivery and harvest systems, data driven optimization and reductive energy design." Their high tech management along with their high yield of crops could be extremely beneficial for people living in any environment.

The CityFarm website proudly extolls their multifaceted workforce, including "engineers, architects, urban planners, economists and plant scientists." If other cities and towns can adopt CityFarm's "grow it HERE and eat it HERE" mentality, a host of jobs as well as tasty meals will be aiding the new urban infrastructure. Who knows what ideas such a locally-laudable system may spout next?

A serious salad bar is brewing at MIT.
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Green Genes: Scientists Work On "Hacking" Plants

With global warming now a widely-accepted reality, it's time to make sure that our planet's plant life is able to keep up with the rising temperatures. To drought-proof the world's greenery, scientists have been experimenting on hacking plant genes to improve water retention.

According to, over 2 billion people worldwide have been affected by drought in recent years. The UN's Food And Agriculture Organization reports that over 11 million people have died from drought-related issues (crop failure or unsafe water sources due to scarcity) since 1900. Now, Duke University scientists aim to curtail that trouble, having "hacked" into plant genes to tell them when to conserve the scant amounts of water some of them are only able to obtain.

The "coping methods" are triggered in the plants when their levels of calcium are raised, forcing them to process precious water more slowly. This is encoded into a gene in the plant's cell membranes. To confirm this, the scientists raised both plants with this gene and plants lacking it and studied the results. “Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth,” concluded associate professor of biology Zhen-Ming Pei.

This discovery will allow scientists to assess how plants in drought-afflicted areas could be made to augment their water retention and thus thrive even under difficult circumstances.  If we can't fix global warming yet, at least we're working on how to deal with it.

Go easy on the drinking there, buddy.