Plant sensors promise savings

Large-scale industrial farms and greenhouses could potentially cut water use by up to 25% while racking up energy savings through less irrigation with a novel plant sensor technology built by newly formed Albuquerque startup Microceres LLC.

Two researchers from the University of New Mexico’s Biology Department launched the company last year after developing the technology through a joint project with Sandia National Laboratories. The UNM biologists – professor David Hanson and then post-doc research and development scientist Patrick Hudson – worked with laboratory scientists to apply “micro-needle” technology previously developed by Sandia to measure water and health metrics in plants.

From the start, the partners envisioned applying the technology to industrial agriculture through “wearable” microsensors attached to crops in a wireless network that could constantly read water levels and conditions in real time for growers to better schedule irrigation for optimal plant growth. They spent two years developing, testing and proving the system before making the leap to commercialization.

“I was the lead investigator for the project for UNM, and I was convinced within the first six months that it would work and it should become a commercial product,” Hanson told the Albuquerque Journal. “But we spent another year and a half to further develop it, and to investigate whether people would be willing to buy it and if we could find partners to help us build it.”

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