Computer

Can Data-Driven Agriculture Help Feed a Hungry World?

Publication: Yale Environment 360   Date: March 3, 2016   View Article

From Bonneville County, Idaho, to Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, tablet-toting agronomists with Anheuser-Busch InBev — the world’s largest brewer by volume — are visiting farmers who grow the company’s malt barley, a key ingredient in beer. These meetings are a decades-old ritual: Growers review contracts as agronomists offer advice on ways to maximize productivity and profitability. Only these days the conversations are increasingly steered by a computer app called SmartBarley that farmers use to log details on more than 40 variables that affect barley production, such as variety planted, soil type, and tillage method, along with applications of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Growers use the platform to compare their practices and yields with other farmers who operate in similar soil and climate conditions.

The program is one of many agribusiness-led initiatives to harness the bits and bytes of data that increasingly are being used in agriculture worldwide to boost efficiency and profits, while simultaneously lowering the environmental impact of agriculture. Other agribusinesses that market data-crunching farm-management tools include seed company Monsanto, chemical company DuPont, and precision-irrigation company Valley Irrigation. FarmLink, which leases combines, recently entered the data game with TrueHarvest, a yield comparison tool that leverages data collected by its fleet of farm machinery to help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize yield and profit.

For now, using big data to improve agricultural productivity is largely centered in the developed world. But sustainable agriculture and development specialists are working to expand access to important agricultural data to the hundreds of millions of small farmers in the developing world. Already, in an effort to improve yields and profits, farmers in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and India are using mobile phones to exchange information about weather, disease, and market prices. And these trends are only expected to grow as information technology spreads. Meanwhile, big data advocates argue that smaller farmers stand to benefit from data-driven agricultural advances, such as improved crop varieties.

Teens face down flu viruses, energy crises in winning Google Science Fair entries

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 24, 2013   View Article

Emerging strains of the flu virus are very close to becoming pandemic, bugs capable of killing millions of people. This stark realization prompted a young researcher named Eric Chen to accelerate the development of new antiviral drugs that could save lives. For his efforts he took top prize at the Google Science Fair Monday — he’s just 17 years old.

“I felt like this was a really urgent problem and I thought, well, why can’t I use this new computational power at our fingertips in order to speed up this process and find new anti-flu medicine,” Google Science Fair grand prize winner Eric Chen of San Diego, Calif., told NBC News

Catastrophic power outages on the rise, but new tech helps keep lights on

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 2, 2013   View Article

Last year, nearly a tenth of the world’s population — 620 million people — lost power at once. The cause? Two simultaneous failures on India’s enormous electric grid.

While these catastrophes are a symptom of infrastructure investment lagging behind rapid urbanization and modernization, technology can help: A new computer algorithm could lower the chances of such massive blackouts from recurring.

World’s smallest stop-motion film made with individual atoms

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 1, 2013   View Article

Scientists at IBM have just unveiled the world’s smallest stop-motion film — certified by Guinness — one made by moving individual atoms. What you’re seeing is 100 million times bigger than the original elements.

For Star Trek fans, the team also unveiled several franchise-inspired images made with atoms, including the USS Enterprise, the famous logo and the “live long and prosper” sign.

Why? To prove that they can and in the process show off the fun side of science, according to Andreas Heinrich, a principal investigator at IBM Research in California who led the effort.

Apple bends to pressure, aims to reduce pollutants in supply chain

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 4, 2013   View Article

Under pressure from environmental groups and other activists, Apple, the maker of iPhones and iPads, has reduced the amount toxic pollutants its suppliers release into the environment, according to a new report.

“They are far from done, but they are definitely in motion,” Linda Greer, head of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S. based environmental group, told NBC News.

Stuck in traffic? Get the right 1 percent of drivers to stay home, says study

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 20, 2012   View Article

If just one percent of drivers from commuter-heavy neighborhoods stayed off the road during rush hour, traffic congestion for everyone else would drop up to 18 percent, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of cellphone data.

The finding provides a convincing incentive for  people in specific neighborhoods to take the bus, carpool or work from home, according to research leader Marta Gonzalez, a civil and environmental engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scotch tape may stick quantum computing to the masses

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 12, 2012   View Article

Even in the out-there world of quantum computing, there’s a use for Scotch tape, according to researchers who used the adhesive to give a semiconductor the properties of a so-called high-temperature superconductor.

The breakthrough is a step toward building the quantum computers of the future and “shows that the standard approach of doing more and more complicated things is not always the best solution,” Kenneth Burch, a physicist at the University of Toronto, told me Wednesday.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach