"Cares better for plants better than a professional human"

Robot passes turing test for polyculture gardening

In 1950, Alan Turing considered the question “Can Machines Think?” and proposed a test based on comparing human vs. machine ability to answer questions. In a recently published paper, the question “Can Machines Garden?” based on comparing human vs. machine ability to tend a real polyculture garden, was taken into decision.

UC Berkeley has a long history of robotic gardens, stretching back to at least the early 90s. "And (as I have experienced) you can totally tend a garden with a robot. But the real question is this: Can you usefully tend a garden with a robot in a way that is as effective as a human tending that same garden? Time for some SCIENCE!", the researchers say.

AlphaGarden is a combination of a commercial gantry robot farming system and UC Berkeley’s AlphaGardenSim, which tells the robot what to do to maximize plant health and growth. The system includes a high-resolution camera and soil moisture sensors for monitoring plant growth, and everything is (mostly) completely automated, from seed planting to drip irrigation to pruning.

To test AlphaGarden’s performance, the UC Berkeley researchers planted two side-by-side farming plots with the same seeds at the same time. There were 32 plants in total, including kale, borage, swiss chard, mustard greens, turnips, arugula, green lettuce, cilantro, and red lettuce. Over the course of two months, AlphaGarden tended its plot full time, while professional horticulturalists tended the plot next door. Then, the experiment was repeated, except that AlphaGarden was allowed to stagger the seed planting to give slower-growing plants a head start. A human did have to help the robot out with pruning from time to time, but just to follow the robot’s directions when the pruning tool couldn’t quite do what it wanted to do.

Read the entire piece at Spectrum

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