AI Podcast: Beyond Be-leaf — How AI Helps Grow 10% of U.S. Lettuce

by Allison Toh

Talk about a growth industry.

If your lettuce was produced in the U.S., there’s already a 10 percent chance AI helped grow it, thanks to a Silicon Valley startup founded by a pair of entrepreneurs with deep roots in the agriculture industry.

The duo have harnessed AI to help farmers deal with one of their toughest problems. When it’s time to fertilize crops, farmers remove planted seeds to ensure that their produce will have enough room to grow, a method known as “thinning.”

The process is arduous and expensive. But that’s changing, explained Blue River Technology co-founder and CTO Lee Redden — who grew up in a farm in Nebraska before coming to California to attend Stanford’s business school.

With his co-founder and Blue River Technology CEO, Jorge Heraud, Redden developed a product that uses deep learning to help farmers fertilize and thin their crops.

“The machines are going to become smarter and smarter, and they’re going to drive towards taking action on a more individual plant-basis,” Redden said in a conversation with Will Ramey, NVIDIA’s senior manager for GPU computing. “And, that’s kind of what needs to happen in agriculture to continue to become more efficient with both land use, product use, machinery use, and to have higher yields coming out.”

Blue River technology is already widely used in California’s Salinas Valley.

Enabled by computer vision and machine learning, a tractor-truck contraption navigates through rows of lettuce, identifying which plants to keep, and which to kill (i.e. extra lettuce and weeds).

Once these images are processed, the technology sprays just the right amount of fertilizer to jointly kill off and fertilize the plants.

Blue River’s next venture? Deploying their machines to work with cotton.

To hear the full story of how AI helps grow our food — including the tale of Redden’s early foray into automated lawn-mowing — tune into the latest edition of NVIDIA’s AI Podcast.

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And if you missed our podcast last week, and you’re a poker fan, it’s worth a safe bet you’ll want to listen in: We spoke with Michael Bowling, a professor at the University of Alberta, about how he and a team of researchers were able to create an AI system that out-bluffed professional poker players.

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