Author Archives: John Sanchez

Here is Vegebot, a robot that picks up lettuce controlling its level of ripeness

Vegebot has been named the new specialized reaper robot to collect lettuce. Developed by a team of engineers from the University of Cambridge, Vegebot, like so many other robots created to make the harvest more efficient, has also been trained to recognize the level of maturation of the leaves.

The robot, which has already been successfully tested on the outdoor fields of a British fruit and vegetable cooperative, is currently not as efficient as a human worker but demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, how the use of robotics is spreading all the time more in the agriculture sector, also to collect fruits or vegetables that require a considerable manual skill.

Different vegetables have been cultivated mechanically or in any case automatically for decades but there are types that “resist” automation as they are very difficult to collect or for which it is very difficult to identify the right level of maturation. Just the iceberg type lettuce is one of these. Among other things, this type of lettuce is relatively flat and more difficult to collect than others.

At the moment, as reported by Julia Cai, one of the authors of the study behind the project that allowed the construction of this robot, “at the moment, the collection is the only part of the life cycle of the lettuce which is done manually and is very demanding from a physical point of view.”

Vegebot intends to make up for the use of human beings to collect lettuce: it determines if the leaves are healthy and ready to be harvested, cuts the lettuce from the plant without damaging it and puts it in a special container. This is something difficult for a robot to implement even if for a human being it may seem simple enough, as reported by one of the authors of the study, Josie Hughes.

To understand the level of maturation of the leaves, the robot uses an artificial vision system based on automatic learning (it should improve more and more with experience). It also uses a sophisticated cutting system with a camera for a regular cut.

The fossil of the oldest lily ever found has been discovered

It is the oldest fossilized lily ever found that was discovered by the botanist Clement Coiffard of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin in the region of a former freshwater lake near Crato, in northeastern Brazil. With an age of 115 million years, it is one of the oldest fossils of monocotyledonous plants among those known; these are plants that include orchids and sweet herbs, among others.

The lily, which belonged to the Cratolirion species, is also “extraordinarily well preserved,” as specified in the by Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

The traces of all plant sections have remained intact, including the roots in addition to flowers and individual cells. Among other things, the plant had narrow leaves with parallel veins with a system of fibrous roots and triple flowers, all characteristic of monocotyledonous plants.

The flower was 40 cm high and the fossil consists of iron oxides associated with the stone. The researchers also used 3D X-ray analysis and three-dimensional computerized tomography techniques and then analyzed the details of the inflorescence.

The species is new and has been classified as Cratolirion bognerianum. This study will prove to be important to understand how the tropical environment has influenced flowering plants, a subject that is still partly unexplored because there are very few fossils of these plants described so far, as Coiffard himself specifies.

What delayed the oxygenation of the Earth? New study provides clues

The chlorophyll photosynthesis implemented by plants began on Earth, according to various tests, already 3 billion years ago. However, oxygenation of the atmosphere seems to have occurred much later than the beginning of photosynthesis by plants, a process that in itself releases oxygen.

This is an enigma that geologists have not been able to solve, as recalled by Christopher Reinhard, a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology who, through a new study, conducted together with researcher Kazumi Ozaki and other colleagues, has tried to clarify the question a bit.

The researchers say they have discovered “that photosynthetic bacteria that use iron instead of water are fierce competitors for light and nutrients,” says Ozaki himself, now a researcher at the University of Toho, Japan.

This means that in the oceans of the primordial Earth the photosynthesizers that release oxygen could not effectively compete with their more primitive counterparts, ie those that consumed dissolved iron ions, very abundant elements on the primordial Earth.

These counterparts produced rust as a by-product instead of oxygen. For a long time, therefore, these photosynthesizers were able to overcome the photosynthesizers that produced oxygen.

The study was published in Nature Communications where it is available in complete form.