Robots Rev Up R&D
Mar 19, 2013
It was a frigid February day in Johnston, Iowa, with temperatures in the teens and a gusting wind that cut right through the toughest winter coats. Nearby, in the Pioneer FAST (Functional Analysis System for Traits) corn greenhouse, the ambiance was much nicer – nice enough to grow row after row of green, tasseling corn, in fact.
A greenhouse built to sustain a corn crop in midwinter isn’t all that unusual – many companies have similar facilities. But how many of these greenhouses are run by robots? That’s right, this greenhouse is (with a few exceptions) autonomous.
"We can go in if we need to, but the preference is that we don’t," says senior research associate Tim Moriarty.
By using robotics, digital image analysis and more, Moriarty says Pioneer can more rapidly select desired genetic properties and bring them to market more quickly.
The set-up is as follows: plants in individual containers are grouped onto palettes and are positioned on narrowly spaced tables in the greenhouse. A robotic crane system has access to each of these tables. With the touch of a button, researchers can move the palettes around or even "fetch" one so they can collect tissue samples.
"This helps us collect the same type of data we traditionally would, but because so much is automated, we can do a much greater volume," Moriarty says. "You go to a workstation, the plants come to you, you take the samples, and you’re done."
The ultimate goal is more rapid research, Moriarty says.
"We’re trying to put as many state-of-the-art technologies in a single place," he says. "This facility is one-of-a-kind."
A glimpse into the DuPont Pioneer robotically run greenhouse in Johnston, Iowa.