By generating energy with plants and thereby powering sensors, researchers want to send signals to satellites.
A device that uses electricity generated by plants as its power source has communicated via satellite. A world’s first, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
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The extremely low power device sends signals at radio frequencies that are picked up by satellites in low Earth orbit. It was developed by Dutch company Plant-e and Lacuna Space, which is based in the Netherlands and the UK, under ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).
It transmits data on air humidity, soil moisture and temperature, enabling field-by-field reporting from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments.
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According to ESA, the device could inform farmers about the conditions of their crops to help increase yield, and enable retailers to gain detailed information about potential harvests.
ESA says plants produce organic matter through photosynthesis, but only part of this matter is used for plant growth. The rest is excreted into the soil through the plant’s roots. In the soil, bacteria around the roots break down this organic matter, releasing electrons as a waste product. The technology developed by Plant-e harvests these electrons to power small electrical devices.