The process of examining and inspecting physical characteristics is known as phenotyping.  Everything that’s alive has phenotypes; they make up your appearance.  They’re the color of your eyes, the shade of your skin, and for plants, the height of their stem.  But for farmers and breeders which consist of over one third of the world’s population, phenotyping plants is a tedious, labor-intensive task.  But now the phenocart has emerged.  In June 2016, Express Computer basically described the phenocart as a fusion between an old bicycle wheel and a box of sensors with a handle.  It can be rolled through field after field, and although it still requires some physical labor, it processes and measures plants’ appearance and plants’ health almost instantaneously.

Phenocarts in India

Phenocarts in India

Although it sounds vastly complex, the structure of the phenocart is pretty straightforward, easily broken down into the sensors and the body.  In an article published mid-2016, it is compared to one of those popular health watches, the Fitbit.  Similar to how a Fitbit measures a person’s heart rate, blood pressure and overall health, a phenocart measures a plant’s color, height and overall health. It has a thermometer, measurement device, camera, and GPS.  It’s also very accessible. Together, these four main components can tell breeders anything they need to know about the health and well-being of a plant, detecting viruses more rapidly, avoiding diseases more effectively, and phenotyping crops more efficiently. The four sensors are attached to the frame of a bicycle, and the entire thing can be wheeled around a field with ease.

widefields

Compared to individually inspecting every single plant, the phenocart makes it much more simple and much less painful for the average farmer.  In a Targeted News Service article, it illustrates the traditional phenotyping process taking hours or even days for a single breeder to cover all his or her plants.  But the phenocart measures multiple attributes at once, and it measures them faster.  For such a high tech innovation, you might expect a price tag with six or seven zeroes.  But that is not the case.  Although some other phenotyping equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the phenocart is a much more reasonable alternative.  And though it is not on the market yet and thus does not have a definite price, researchers assure that it will be affordable and practical.

The phenocart directly addresses some immediate issues, but at the same time, it provides long-term solutions to physical afflictions in the fields and agricultural methods in the labs.  According to Edith Munro, along with arthritis and hearing loss, farmers and breeders across the world suffer from chronic back pain after years of excruciating tough work in the fields. But the phenocart will alleviate much of their pain, allowing farmers to work longer and happier. Additionally, the phenocart can join in the movement to revolutionize agriculture. Willie Vogt goes on to remark in his May 2016 article with Farm Industry News, that “long term… breeders will be able to enhance crops for improved traits faster than ever.”

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