The Plantenna programme that is being coordinated by the Technical University Delft, Holland, focusses heavily on the strongly interlinked problems of climate change, air pollution and food shortages. Problems, that with an ever-growing world population and increasing urbanisation, will only become greater. Central to this project is the development of sensor technology that will collect information within plants about the state of the crop and that of their immediate surroundings. By connecting such plants fitted with these sensors into a network - an ‘Internet of Plants’ – the data so collected can be used for climate and weather monitoring, and for higher crop yields through efficient fertilisation and irrigation.
The worldwide food production lags behind an increasing demand. In order to ensure food security for the world's population, which will soon number more than 9 billion, the crop yield of existing agricultural areas will have to increase. A changing climate, changing weather patterns and increasing urbanisation only increases the challenge.
Within plants several physical, chemical and biological processes take place. With new sensor technology it will become possible to observe these processes directly in the plant. A plant equipped with such botanical sensors - a ‘cyberplant’ – can provide data about humidity, cell composition and the quality of the crop itself, as well as environmental factors such as soil an air quality, wind speed, solar intensity and rainfall. With fast and reliable information about the state of the plant, crops can be watered at the optimal time and fertilised efficiently. The sensors will additionally provide valuable data about climate, weather and environment.
Internet of Plants
Researchers from four Dutch technical universities – the Delft University of Technology, the University of Twente, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Wageningen University – have joined forces to make this pioneering technology possible. For this they will develop sensors that will, among other things, directly measure the sap flow or sense the movement of plants. Ideally, the various sensors in the plant form an autonomous and self-sufficient system. That is why there is also research into whether the sensors, via an electro-chemical process, can take their required energy directly from the plant, and whether they can communicate their measurement results to other plants, where the plant itself functions as the antenna.
Hence the name Plantenna: an antenna that gathers information from the plant itself and its environment and subsequently sends it as part of an antenna network. Collectively these cyberplants can form a network – an ‘Internet of Plants’ – that can generate data about crops, environment, weather and climate, that was not available previously. Applications that come to mind are fine-grained networks that can collect accurate data about the (urban) micro-climate, which could lead to better local weather forecasts.