Image: ViGIR Lab/University of Missouri at Columbia

At a time when many people are concerned about the potentially negative impact of robotics on individuals’ lives and livelihoods, researchers at the University of Missouri are relying on robots for a project that’s decidedly pro-human: fighting world hunger.

Robots are helping scientists track crops and how they grow in drought situations. Knowledge gained from the 3D images and data the robots create and collect could help agriculturists develop corn that is more drought resistant.

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To develop 3D images of corn plants in the field, the research team developed a combination approach of a mobile sensor tower and autonomous robot vehicles equipped with three levels of sensors and an additional robotic arm.

The tower inspects a 60-foot radius of a given field to identify areas affected by environmental stresses, while the vehicle collects data on individual plants. The sensors have the ability to measure various heights of the corn plant in order to reconstruct the 3D image.

Measurements taken from the tower alert researchers if plants are under stress such as heat or drought, and the tower then signals the mobile robot to go to a particular area of the field and collect data on individual plants.

The robots can collect data on temperature, humidity, and light intensity at three different levels on the corn plant. This is referred to as plant phenotyping, which assesses growth, development, yield, and…