If you are impatient by nature, here's good news. It's a futuristic development you won't have to wait five, 10 or 20 years to see. If you can hang on until spring 2016, the Purdue University plant research phenotyping center should be up and running. It's under construction now at the Purdue Agronomy Research Center, also known as ACRE, just west of West Lafayette on U.S. Highway 52.
Marshall Martin, director of Purdue's Soybean Center, says there will be no other facility like it in the world. Its purpose is to support phenotyping and collection of data on plants on the 1,400 acre research farm. Collecting data will involve both use of sensors and UAVs. Part of the original concept for the center was to develop sensors that would record activities within individual plants.
Part of the building will be devoted to prep space for drones and sensors. Other space will be devoted to data storage and analysis. Room for teaching and interaction between students and faculty is also built into the design.
"This is an inter-disciplinary effort- not just by Purdue College of Agriculture alone," Martin says. Other schools from campus will be involved. We want professors and students to mingle and share ideas. That is how we will get where we want to be with this project.
Primary source of funding is the $20 million plant initiative grant from Purdue awarded by Purdue president Mitch Daniels in 2013. Only a part of that money is supporting the building. Industry sponsors are also kicking in to help make the building a reality.
It's already making a difference in the skyline along U.S. Highway 52. Katy Rainey, a soybean breeder who will be involved with use of data collected through the new project, says she already notices it on her way into work each day. Look for it to make a difference in how plant breeders and scientists look at plants soon after it debuts next year.