For science! Research teams employed at Microsoft are participating in a competition that has them growing cucumbers by operating autonomous greenhouses to explore AI applications in indoor farming.
Teams from Intel and Tencent are also among the participants.
The Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge is a competition at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
It stated started in September and wraps up in December. Alongside corporate tech giants, a control group of horticulture professionals from the Netherlands is also in action, who are using methods typically employed in greenhouses today.
Conclusions from the content will be shared with the public in December. And the event is overseen and judged by horticulture staff at Wageningen.
This short video provides the details:
Teams are using AI to drive their decisions, with models using cucumber growing datasets provided by the university. Wageningen University staff enter the greenhouse to do tasks like removing cucumbers and cutting leaves, but algorithms informed by sensors control the proceedings.
Speaking of, cucumbers were chosen as the test crop because of the amount of existing modeling data and knowhow available.
The entire greenhouse is like a fully autonomous robot, with sensors and artificial intelligence directing the actuators in real time how much nutrition to deliver.
As of this writing, Microsoft Research is leading in net profit for its greenhouse, followed by Tencent and a team from Wageningen University.
Companies have been trying to explore opportunities and see if cloud computing and continuously learning AI in sustained environments like this can change the way people around the world get food.
And by the looks of things, they seem to be getting somewhere!