Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center are working on a device that they hope to eventually sell to farmers.
The PheNode can monitor a variety of crop conditions, such as wind speed, humidity, soil nutrients, even air quality, and it can take pictures. Researchers and farmers could then get that information sent to their mobile devices as often as they choose.
The prototype was developed by Danforth Center researcher Nadia Shakoor, principal investigator Todd Mockler and several colleagues. They began work on a prototype in July and soon realized farmers would benefit from the PheNode.
"It was a product that we were like ‘why doesn’t this exist already for our purposes?’” Shakoor said, “and the more we looked into it, it became obvious that it would be useful for a lot of applications.”
At 20 pounds, the PheNode could easily be moved from site to site within a field or around a farm. Perhaps more important, Shakoor said they hope to sell the device for $1,000.
“Compared to existing systems on the market, this is much more reasonable. Systems like this are $40,000 to $50,000, even more in some cases,” she said.
Development of the PheNode is part of a larger effort at the Danforth Center to take discoveries made in the laboratory to the marketplace. It’s the first physical product developed so far.
Danforth Center President Jim Carrington said the device will help researchers understand how plants work, but it will also help farmers in daily decision making.
“Delivering it to the farm will help growers make better decisions to manage their crops, reduce their environmental footprint and costs,” he said.
The PheNode recently was highlighted at the 2016 Ag Innovation Showcase and SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. The plan is to spin off a company and begin manufacturing it by the end of next year.
In order to do that, Shakoor estimated the developers will need to raise about $2 million from investors. That includes about $800,000 to further develop the researchers' second prototype and test it in the field.
"That’s the biggest thing we need to do — get these out into different environments and different locations and make sure they’re durable and can last a full season,” she said.
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