Plant sensors have the power to monitor water intake for individual crops.

Humans are getting very comfortable with the concept of wearable technology. We have these devices  on our wrists and around our necks, so why not use them in other applications, like farming? Not a bad idea, since we’ll need more food than ever to feed the world.

The increasing human population has inflated the demand for efficient crop cultivations. Agriculture companies are now implementing technology in order to not only raise crops in a resourceful manner but also to breed hearty plants.

Liang Dong, an associate professor at Iowa State, is the lead developer of graphene-based sensors that monitor plant growth processes.

Graphene Sensor Technology

Graphene sensor technology has flourished recently as a material with great potential across multiple industries. Fisker Inc. is currently working with graphene to create long-distance car batteries for a new line of electric vehicles. The battery technology is set to give Tesla a run for its money in upcoming years.

Grolltex, producer of advanced graphene products, was granted a patent for an atom-thick graphene sensor capable of monitoring biometrics from individual cells. These sensors have unpresidented data collection capabilities and are proof that graphene is a material with massive potential.

Here is a list of possible uses for this carbon-based material:

  • Computer transistors
  • Energy generation
  • Sensors of all types
  • Light procession
  • Medical devices

Wearable Plant Sensors

Liang and his team are refining the logistics of the sensors and their application to the crop. According to Iowa State University, the team’s current approach consists of, “fabricating intricate graphene patterns on tape”.

The graphene plant sensors are then capable of collecting water usage data that farmers can use to make efficiency decisions. The idea is to monitor all the crops and discover which plants are the best at distributing water from their roots to the leaves. These champion plants would then be used in a cultivation program to increase the number of high yield crops. We have just entered the era of agriculture predigre breeding.

As with many technology and manufacturing projects, minimizing cost is vital to the success of the program, and Liang Dong has made it a priority. Interestingly enough, rather than looking for a high-tech solution, Liang took the route of simplicity to drive down costs.

The Solution

Liang’s solution? Tape. A graphene sensor-laden piece of tape will provide an affordable option for advanced crop monitoring. Brilliant. And, the best part is that plants sustain no damage from the application of the sensors.

The relatively low cost of the sensors, in theory, will make them more appealing and attainable for farmers. The hope is that the wearable plant sensors will become commonplace in the agriculture industry . Fitting crops with wearable sensor technology will begin an unprecedented era of agriculture efficiency and aid in the issue of a possible food shortage as  the human population increases.

Wearable Plant Sensor Funding

Although the team at Iowa State University has developed genius ways to drive down wearable plant sensor costs, there is still a significant amount of reach that must be carried out and paid for. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grants funding to support research in plant health and granted the wearable plant sensor project $472,363 to be used over a three-year period,Iowa State University announced.

The research conducted by  the Cyclones team may have applications beyond wearable plant sensor technology for the biomedical, construction, and toxicology fields. For now, crops are the main focus. With a sprinkling of federal grant money though, the project is beginning to grow.