Semi-Out of Control: A Different Kind of Green Process Engineering

This story is up at U.S. News & World Report. I gotta get me one of these.

Spring is a long time coming in Illinois and those of us itching to get in our gardens are suffering from a malady for which we will pay come July and August--in our enthusiam, we're going to buy wa-a-ay too many tomato plants. Trust me. We know better, but we will anyway.

But maybe the kids from MIT can help.

Seems "A class of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a set of robots that can water, harvest and pollinate cherry tomato plants. The small, $3,000 robots, which move through the garden on a base similar to a Roomba vacuum, are networked to the plants. When the plants indicate they need water, the robots can sprinkle them from a water pump. When the plants have a ripe tomato, the machines use their arms to pluck the fruit.

"Last spring, Daniela Rus, a professor who runs the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, began a two-part course. In the first semester, the students learned the basics of creating and using robots. By the fall, the students were ready to have robots tackle a real-world problem. Rus and Nikolaus Correll, a postdoctoral assistant in Rus' lab, challenged the students to create a "distributed robotic garden" by the end of the semester.

"Now there are four cherry tomato plants nestled into a plywood base covered in fake grass. Next to each pot is a gray docking station for the robots. Each plant and robot is connected to a computer network. The plants, through sensors in their soil, can tell the network when they need water or fertilizer, while the robots use a camera to inventory the plants' fruit. The robots also are programmed with a rudimentary growth model of the cherry tomato plants, which tells them roughly when a tomato will be ripe enough to be picked."

I'm all over this, folks. Come on to my house.