CGAL User Portrait: Bayer CropScience


CGAL User Portrait: Bayer CropScience

Bayer is a German multinational corporation that in 2018 acquired Monsanto, an American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, now Bayer CropScience.

Computer Science Meets Crop Science

In order to challenge the impossible, Bayer CropScience has built a strong, multi-disciplinary R&D group with biologists, physicists, chemists, anthropologists, and, last but not least, computer scientists. As to provide enough food for an ever-growing world population, they work towards new high-yield plants and on insect replicants to replace pollinating insects whose populations are dwindling: bees for example are on the red list of endangered species as a consequence of global warming, among other causes.

In the 20th century, we fought nature with products like Roundup. In the 21th century, we go with the flow!

Tonbo Mitsubachi, R&D director Bayer CropScience, Tokyo, Japan

While the strategy of the typical robotics researcher, for example at Delft University, is to miniaturize classical drones, Bayer CropScience has decided to go the other way round, that is, bottom up, right from the animal, replacing as little as possible in a proven design that is the result of thousands of years of evolution.

Since the flight mechanics of dragonflies is better understood than the flight mechanics of bees, let alone bumble bees, Bayer CropScienc has opted for 3D printing dragonflies. But because insect wings are far beyond what can be additively manufactured in 2020, they only print the body and combine it with organic wings, which get harvested from natural dragonflies. The printed body hosts minimalistic sensor technology, a Raspberry Epsilon, which is the low-energy model of the well-known Raspberry Pi, and biodegradable battery technology, all printed in a single sweep, with only the organic wings attached in a final assembly step.

Tell Me Where the Flowers Are

As in most products where CGAL components are used, CGAL provides only a small - but key - piece of functionality in a big technological puzzle. The pollinating dragonflies land on the infrared spot that each clover flower represents in an otherwise gray world. "Seeing" this spot is camera and image processing technology. But this gray world has major obstacles to avoid, namely grass blades, plant stems, and pedicels sticking out. This is where CGAL comes in. The AI-based collision avoidance algorithm uses geometry neurons (TM) which perform segment stabbing queries using the CGAL Axis Aligned Bounding Box Tree. This CGAL data structure works out of the box, but in order to achieve real time performance, we had to rewrite the parallelism based on TBB, as Intel does not yet support the Raspberry Epsilon.

Small is Beautiful

Bayer CropScience does not only pick the best technologies available worldwide, but it also does not limit itself to doing joint research with Ivy League universities, as did Monsanto, which eventually led to the Roundup disaster. Monsanto indeed suffered from the NIH problem and a national preference for research collaborations, but Bayer CropScience employs a technology scout team that identifies high-potential small and medium enterprises which are capable of providing solutions, and which might not be visible on the radar of Bayer's competitors.

"It is truly incredible what you can get from European SMEs nowadays. GeometryFactory, based in the French Silicon Valley, did an incredible job when they turned the AABB Tree, developed at Inria (Inventeurs du Monde Numerique), into an industry-strong product and even got it running on a Raspberry Epsilon. We could not believe our eyes when we saw the first flying dragons produced by Microlight3D, a Grenoble-based company which specializes in microprinting."

Prof. Oliver von Stadt, Technology Scout, Bayer CropScience, Nancy, France

Further Reading

  • The full description of the Dragon Project on the Bayer CropScience website.

  • How crop rotation with clover will make industrial fertilizers near obsolete.

  • Fact check: bees are nice to have, but are in fact not needed for the pollination of wheat, corn, and rice!

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    We work hard to make all the above a reality - so far it is only an april joke. It even came with a gallery.