Knowing when exactly to water plants can be challenging enough for an average gardener. For the agriculture industry, it's a huge task that has called for leaps in innovation over the years, so as to help countries manage their water resources wisely.
Now, a group of researchers from UC Riverside and UC Merced has received a grant for more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the National Science Foundation's National Robotics Initiative to take on the challenge.
The result? The group is developing a robotic pressure chamber that autonomously samples leaves and immediately tests them to provide data on a crop's watering needs.
An autonomous leaf tester
In order to determine water needs, growers typically hand-pick individual leaves from plants before sending them off-site where they are put in pressure chambers. These chambers allow analysts to apply air pressure to determine when water begins to leak from the leaf stems, showing how soon the plant will need to be watered.