OptiBiomass: where anti-COVID research and Artificial Intelligence meet

Since 2017, the OptiBiomass project has been considering molecules of interest to the pharmaceutical and parapharmaceutical sector. Hemp, euphorbia, pelargonium, and echinacea have been successively studied in order to extract the most efficient active ingredients. In the context of Covid-19, the research has, in 2020, been reoriented towards the study of mugwort, a plant with anti-malarial and anti-viral properties. This agronomic project with added medical value has just been joined by artificial intelligence: a robot has been installed in the mugwort crops of Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech ULiège.

What is the principle of this "Smart agriculture"? A robot, supplemented by two hyperspectral cameras and coupled with software, progresses among the crops. "Before, the plants moved in front of a robot; now, the robot-camera-software trio moves among the crops," explains Prof. Haïssam Jijakli, coordinator of the OptiBiomass project, at the C-RAU (Centre de Recherches en Agriculture Urbaine), at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech ULiège.

The study is neither in the open field nor in the ground, but in containers and above ground. Among other advantages, the container constitutes an environment where one can control various parameters such as light, relative humidity, and irrigation, and thus place the crops in a context of optimal yield from the start. In addition, the container offers the opportunity to grow the plants en masse and in a limited space. Finally, the hydroponic culture that is practiced in the container requires little water. Once all these optimal conditions are met and applied, the robot operates. 

This technology will help identify efficient cultivation protocols, which will then be sent to farmers, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas. These producers could therefore make the most of unused spaces in the city or on the outskirts, or even consider growing crops in places where this would have been unlikely (polluted soils, industrial wasteland, etc.).

Read the original article at www.ccimag.be.

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