Nine ways computer science and ag-tech are helping feed America’s 326 million hungry mouths
Understanding the land
Making the most of every acre involves knowing what’s going on under the soil’s surface. Everything from soil chemistry to water levels and the health of individual plants is useful data for farming. Programmers help farmers using sensors in the ground and drones in the sky. Better data means more efficient irrigation, less fertilizer, and higher yields.
CS USED: GIS (Geographical Information Systems), autonomous vehicles, remote sensing
FIND OUT MORE: Watch a National Geographic video on YouTube about remote sensing and drones in farming at bit.ly/Drones_Farming
Just the best!
Computer vision is a field of CS devoted to teaching computers to recognize images in the same way that people do. By installing cameras and computer vision systems on food production lines, computer scientists can help sort the good produce from the bad, and remove defective products before they’re packed and shipped.
CS USED: Machine learning, computer vision, robotics
FIND OUT MORE: See if Google’s neural networks can recognize your drawings at bit.ly/Quick_Doodling
In the same way you might use an app or a smartwatch to stay fit, farmers are using tech to gather a wealth of data from their animals, such as the movement of herds and the health of individual animals.
CS USED: Data science, embedded systems programming
FIND OUT MORE: Check out the same technology used with wildlife at bit.ly/WWF_Species
Understanding the sky
Even in today’s high-tech world, crops need basics such as sunshine and water to grow. Computer scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service work with some of the most powerful supercomputers and the most accurate simulations in the world to help pick the best times to plant and harvest.
CS USED: Simulations, computer modeling
FIND OUT MORE: Check out bit.ly/Earth_Wind to play with a real-time weather simulation of our planet.
All about trust
Most of us don’t even think about the technology behind how we pay for groceries, and that trust is all thanks to cybersecurity. Americans make more than 120 billion electronic transactions per year, and cybersecurity experts keep that system safe. They’re constantly checking for flaws in code, running penetration tests, and keeping one step ahead of cybercrime.
CS USED: Cybersecurity, ethical hacking, penetration testing, social engineering
FIND OUT MORE: Learn about cybersecurity on YouTube at bit.ly/Cyber_Code
Crossing the country
Getting stuck in traffic on the way to school is one thing, but it’s even worse if you’ve got a trailer full of perishable vegetables. City planners and freight companies are turning to real-time data and simulations to find the quickest route from A to B.
CS USED: Simulation and modeling, real-time data analysis
FIND OUT MORE: Try out a real traffic model at bit.ly/Traffic_Flow
Stocking the shelves
How much bread does your local store need? How much milk? Does that change on weekends or holidays? What if it’s a really hot day, or if a storm is coming? The supply chains that bring you what you need are incredibly complex, and without the help of data scientists, these questions are impossible to answer.
CS USED: Database engineering, logistics engineering
FIND OUT MORE: See how store shelves stay stocked even after an epic hurricane at bit.ly/Shelf_Stock
From coffee pots to plant pots (yes, really), objects in our homes are getting brainier thanks to the Internet of Things. Although they look like the regular appliances they’re replacing, inside every smart device is a tiny computer. They might be connected to controls, that let you start your A/C from the Internet, or to sensors, that let you see exactly what temperature the food in your oven is, from anywhere in the house. Creative coders come up with the cool ideas that make this work.
CS USED: Embedded systems programming
FIND OUT MORE: Meet the plant pot that keeps your leafy friends healthy at bit.ly/Smart_Plant
With the help of a massive library of all the world’s recipes, right down to the chemistry of which foods taste good together, data scientists are teaching IBM’s Watson supercomputer to cook. By looking at what flavors and ingredients have been used together before, Watson tries to “predict” new combinations that might work well – and the results are often surprising. Watson is now predicting financial markets and helping doctors diagnose illnesses.
CS USED: Natural language learning, expert systems, neural networks
FIND OUT MORE: You can try generating some recipes based on ingredients Watson predicts might go well together at bit.ly/Code_Watson