The ‘smart clock’ for plants tells you when they need water – Globo Rural Magazine

Monitoring the biological needs of plants is not easy, as the physical signs of water and nutrient deficiencies vary greatly by species. A new technology that works similarly to a smartwatch helps solve this problem. The “smartwatch for plants” prototype, developed at the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), based in Campinas (SP), detects water shortages through a wireless system and a mobile app. The data provided in real time by the wearable device can guide the management and development of new agricultural inputs.

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  A prototype of a wearable device for plants (Photo: American Chemical Society)

A prototype of a wearable device for plants (Photo: American Chemical Society)

Similar to a smartwatch, which tracks the heart’s activities through electrodes, the device the scientists developed is attached to the leaf of a plant. From the data generated by the electrodes, the instrument sends the information via Bluetooth to the smartphone. This technology enables remote monitoring to be done over the Internet, which is very useful for scientists and agronomists to identify problems with plant health in the field before it is too late.

“Conventional methods have limitations, as they are based on imaging systems, satellites and drones. They need the plant to be attacked by disease to provide phenotypic cues or visual indicators to generate alerts while monitoring. In crops such as soybeans, for example, color The change can indicate an irreversible stage of diseases such as rust,” explained Renato Souza Lima, a researcher at the National Laboratory for Nanotechnology (LNNano), a member that integrates CNPEM.

Creating a flexible electrochemical sensor for plants was not an easy task, because the leaves have a hairy surface, which makes it difficult for an electrode attached to a fine-pored adhesive to stick. As a result, the materials used must also be light so as not to interfere with the biological processes of plant development.

During construction, the researchers created two prototypes that tested, on soybean leaves, the durability and the amount of signals produced. The nickel based electrode has proven to be more durable and effective than the burnt paper electrode. In the video, the organization explains how the tests are conducted:

In addition to monitoring the amount of water in plants, the researchers say, the device can also provide indirect information about exposure to toxic products and diseases. This innovation can increase crop yields and save the amount of water used in agriculture, making farming more sustainable.

Tests of the device were carried out in an in-house laboratory on soybean and sugarcane seedlings, and the next stage of the project will be to conduct external tests with farmers. According to information from CNPEM, the mobile device has a battery life of 10 days and uses materials with large-scale production conditions. The patent still needs to be approved and the company is interested in turning the technology into a commercial product.

The device showed a high sensitivity for assessing the efficiency of the use of certain management techniques or the effect of using inputs, as well as for monitoring the productive conditions of crops. We believe that with small modifications it can also contribute as an additional resource in monitoring toxicological conditions in the field,” evaluates researcher Giulia Adorno Barbosa.

The study was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces and is the result of a partnership between researchers from Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), Federal do ABC (UFABC) and Harvard, with resources from Fapesp and CNPq.

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* With information from Fapesp and CNPEM

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