Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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36 unmanned systems inside April/May 2017 LAND AGRICULTURE Photos courtesy of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology W hen breeders develop new crops, genetic-sequencing tech- nology can help them analyze the complete DNA blueprint of each plant. However, to understand what combinations of genes lead to the most desirable plants, scientists need to compare the genetic blueprint of each plant with its set of physical traits, or phenotype. Nowadays, contract research organizations help companies such as Dow or Monsanto "measure the phenotypes of crops by hand, look- ing at all kinds of different parameters, such as root mass," said Girish Chowdhary, the director of the Distributed Autonomous Systems Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The aim is to see what a new gene does in a plant, or what effects an herbicide has. It's typically very labor intensive." Instead of having teams of people analyze crop phenotypes, Chowdhary and his colleagues aim to develop an all-terrain rover that can carry out the task in an automated manner. "One benefit we hope for is consistency; another is reduction in costs," Chowdhary said. "The goal at the end of the day is for farming to be more efficient and sustainable—to grow more in small areas and not expend as many resources, especially chemicals and fossils fuels." "For producers, it's going to accelerate the rate at which we can improve the genetic material. We can now select material much more rapidly and select many more plants as well, so we can eventually deliver to the farmer a far more productive bioenergy crop," said Stephen Long, the director of the project, in a statement. Long is the Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at University of Illinois. Robots could soon be roaming farm fi elds to help seed developers identify which individual plants have the combination of characteristics most likely to boost yields of raw materials for biofuels and other valuable crops. Inspired by the rovers used to search collapsed buildings and map storm drains, these robots eventually could navigate complex terrains on their own. by Charles Q. Choi ROBOT ASSESSES WHETHER PLANTS MEASURE UP Team members check the TERRA-MEPP robot.