Meet Don Roverto and Tatiana, the robotic vehicles helping to breed better beans

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Palmira, Colombia: While walking around the Alliance’s campus, in addition to the nearly one thousand people working there, you may also spot two robots rolling through our bean fields. They are “Roverto” and “Tatiana”, the nicknames provided by the Biotechnology team led by scientist Michael Selvaraj. These robotic vehicles, or rovers, collect and analyze data for the improvement and development of crop varieties.

Before 2016, crop breeding entailed hard work monitoring crops day after day. Researchers could spend hours, days, even months crossing the fields under the sun or rain, with a notebook and pen in hand to record every feature, studying different plant traits, so they could subsequently analyze all the collected data (this is known as “phenotyping”). Today, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT is using a digital phenotyping approach, which enables unprecedented, faster, and more accurate crop analysis. “Roverto” and “Tatiana” can obtain data that will allow them to explore and predict different bean crop traits, such as the amount of plants flowering, the count, area, and color of the leaves, as well as pod size.

“It is not only a matter of capturing an image and analyzing it. Here, we are combining robotics with machine learning, and deep learning. I would say this is the best combination,” says Michael Selvaraj.

The T4, better known as “Don Roverto”, weighs 900 kg and is fitted with six sensors which capture high-resolution images. Despite weighing almost a ton, Roverto is designed to cross fields of bush beans without damaging the crops. Lateral sensors capture different angles and create a 3D image of the plant more thorough than those generated by drones. 


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