TERRA REF: Advanced Field Crop Analytics (Past Project)
The UA is part of an effort led by the U.S. Department of Energy to collect and generate big data faster and develop new crops more quickly for sustainable domestic energy — and food, feed and fiber needs down the line. Creating domestic biofuels from sorghum is just the beginning.
The world's largest robotic field scanner has been inaugurated at the University of Arizona's Maricopa Agricultural Center, or MAC, near Phoenix.
Mounted on a 30-ton steel gantry moving along 200-meter steel rails over 1.5 acres of energy sorghum, the high-throughput phenotyping robot senses and continuously images the growth and development of the crop, generating an extremely high-resolution, enormous data stream — about 5 terabytes per day.
The scanner is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, program known as Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture, or TERRA. The overall goal of the multi-institutional effort that includes the UA is to identify crop physical (phenotypic) traits that are best suited to producing high-energy sustainable biofuels and match those plant characteristics to their genes, greatly speeding up plant breeding to deliver improved varieties to market.
The UA and TERRA hosted a recent field day, which included a demonstration of the "field scanalyzer" and other ground and air-based robotics for plant breeding, along with tractor-based sensors and presentations on data analytics platforms for energy crops.