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Background

Can AI outperform growers in the future?

14 August marked the start of the Autonomous Greenhouses Challenge as 5 international teams try to grow cucumbers at a distance with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at the facilities of Wageningen University & Research (WUR).

The 5 international teams that were selected from 14 applying teams during a 24-hour hackathon on Friday 1 June 2018, will have 4 months to produce a cucumber yield remotely and without human intervention, using as little water, nutrition and energy as possible while achieving the highest possible output (i.e. production). The goal is to convert knowledge about cultivation into algorithms that can enable computers to regulate cultivation automatically in the future, even in places where such knowledge is lacking. So, the question is: can computers do as well as growers? For this, each team has been allocated 96 square metres in the facilities of WUR’s business unit Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk (the Netherlands).

Five international teams have four months to produce a cucumber yield remotely and without human intervention. Photo: Wageningen University & Research
Five international teams have four months to produce a cucumber yield remotely and without human intervention. Photo: Wageningen University & Research

Own algorithms

“The teams have partly developed their own algorithms and used them to determine output settings such as temperature, fertilisation and several cultivation-related parameters such as plant and stem density,” says the head of the Horticulture Technology research team Silke Hemming. “The sensors and cameras – which they installed themselves in the week of 20 August – measure some of these cultivation data. The sensors send the information to the computer systems, allowing them to control the climate and fertilisation in the greenhouse. The teams will not be allowed to enter the greenhouses apart from to install the equipment.”

Each team has been allocated 96 square metres in the facilities of WUR’s business unit Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk (Netherlands). Photo: Wageningen University & Research
Each team has been allocated 96 square metres in the facilities of WUR’s business unit Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk (Netherlands). Photo: Wageningen University & Research

AI to have greater impact

According to Hemming, the use of artificial intelligence will have an even greater impact globally. “In many countries, there is very little knowledge about complex plant production. Artificial intelligence can help people make complicated decisions, so they can locally produce vegetables and fruit with fewer means. The higher yield and production are especially important in view of the growing global population.”

Supervisors from WUR Greenhouse Horticulture will provide the teams with the required digital information. Information will be shared with and output settings received from the teams via an interface produced by LetsGrow.com, one of WUR’s tech partners. WUR employees will be responsible for harvesting and communicating standard crop information, including yield weight, to the teams. An international jury will oversee the process and award points.

Follow it online

Would you like to follow the Autonomous Greenhouses Challenge? Go to the website to check out the process every day and see, for instance, which team is doing the best with its cultivation or how they are dealing with adverse results. You can also ask WUR’s expert Silke Hemming your questions about the Autonomous Greenhouses Challenge.

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