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Microsoft open-sources farm technologies, planting seeds for data-driven sustainable agriculture – GeekWire


Software engineer and Eastern Washington farmer Andrew Nelson tests Microsoft Research technologies including tools for making better use of drone data. (Photo by Dan DeLong for Microsoft)

Microsoft Research is releasing the underlying code for a series of agricultural technologies under open-source licenses, encouraging soil specialists, plant scientists and other experts to build tech solutions for sustainable farms.

The move comes as U.S. farmers grapple with low yields due in part to the effects of climate change and extreme weather in many parts of the country.

Microsoft is making the “FarmVibes.AI” technologies available on GitHub:

  • Async Fusion uses drone and satellite images in combination with ground-based sensors to provide soil insights, helping farmers determine the depth to plant seeds and how much fertilizer to apply, for example.
  • SpaceEye removes clouds from satellite images to analyze conditions in fields.
  • DeepMC uses sensor data and weather station forecasts to predict temperatures and wind speeds.
  • A “what if” tool designed to help farmers understand how different agricultural practices will impact soil-based carbon sequestration, giving them the possibility of earning additional income from carbon markets.

“We want to drive the innovations in the space around data and AI … by bringing the latest in tech to the domain experts,” said Ranveer Chandra, managing director of Microsoft’s Research for Industry Group, in a media briefing. “Through them, we will then be able to really make advances in democratizing data-driven agriculture.”

Microsoft has been testing the technologies with Andrew Nelson, an Eastern Washington farmer and software engineer, who studied computer science and business at the University of Washington.

He’s also unusual in that he has been able to secure a fiber connection to his farm, after trying for about 15 years to get one. “To make sure that I can prove out every single thing that we do, I have a lot of connectivity on our farm,” Nelson said, acknowledging that he’s “very lucky.”

One of the technologies to be released by the Microsoft in the future will help to address the issue for others: FarmVibes.Connect uses unused spectrum, also known as TV “white spaces,” to provide internet connectivity in rural areas.


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