Robots in the cornfield? UNL team believes it’s the next big thing

July 6th, 2019

LINCOLN- Plant science students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are still taught to phenotype by hand, wading into muddy fields to record the differences in physical characteristics between varying corn hybrids with a small set of tools and a pen and notebook.

But like the rest of 21st century life, technology is on track to render humans obsolete.

A team of UNL plant scientists and biological systems engineers have built an automated system capable of detecting an individual corn leaf and grasping it with robotic precision to screen its temperature, chlorophyll and water content in less than a minute.

At a time when driverless combines can harvest around the clock, drones can nimbly identify problem spots in a field, and cattle herds are fitted with wearable devices to monitor their individual health, the Plant Phenotyping Robot System marks another leap forward for precision agriculture.

James Schnable, an associate professor of plant science who specializes in computational biology, said before hybrid corn “really took off” after World War II, there was little need to measure how a specific breed of corn physically manifested itself in the field.

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Story by Chris Dunker | Lincoln Journal Star