A field with a future: Artificial intelligence for better seed
Artificial intelligence is gaining in importance in seed breeding. KWS is currently developing and conducting tests with a field robot in the U.S. to find out how plant traits can be identified automatically and precisely to support variety selection decisions and enable conclusions that will help improve yields and resistances in agricultural crops.
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The robot cannot replace the experienced view of Jana Murche, head of wheat breeding in the USA, and her team; it simply increases the amount of collected data.
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To train artificial intelligence, Jana Murche collects phenotypic traits in the field.
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Breeders can only keep an eye on a small part of a plot. A glance at the experimental field in Champaign (Illinois) shows why: it's simply too big.
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The autonomous robot TerraSentia stubbornly and almost tirelessly follows a given route.
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Two cameras and lasers film traits such as plant height and type of beard.
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Advantage of the robot developed by the start-up company EarthSense: It can be built several times to collect even more data.
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The wheat growers harvest selected lines for the next breeding generation.
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The best lines can be determined on the basis of robot data and evaluation by artificial intelligence, explains breeder Jana Murche.
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Wheat breeder Mark Christopher measures the height of the selected lines. It’s another example that the human factor will be preserved in the breeding process.
Phenotyping – a look at the plant
To ensure plants are doing well and growing, breeders have to inspect them repeatedly – out in the field, i.e. where they grow with their genetic makeup (genotype) under environmental influences.
That requires a lot of time, but also a lot of breeding experience to assess existing or desired characteristics of the plant – their phenotype – and respond with appropriate breeding measures.
Modern technology can help in all of that and deliver additional information. KWS is therefore putting a great deal of work into developing new methods to automatically identify specific traits of plants. Images of fields or plots are taken from the ground or air, for example. They can be used on the computer to deduce information on traits. That requires close cooperation between IT specialists and experienced breeders.
What is artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been a field of research. Decades ago, it delved into a distant future where machines assume important human tasks, a vision that has taken on more concrete form in the past years – as evidenced by voice assistants, voice translators, autonomous vehicles or detection of cancer and other diseases. For artificial intelligence to work, it needs huge volumes of data, commonly called big data.
AI can roughly be divided into three areas:
- Perception – such as voice, text, picture or facial recognition.
- Learning – such as deep learning and machine learning
- Application – such as the use of robots like TerraSentia.