Robots Care for Plants (By Peeing on Them)

Call it what you want, but the MIT-built horticultural robots roll around, lowering a tube and spraying right into dirt around the plants' stems. I'm snickering, but the project itself is pretty cool.

It's a program at the MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, intended to help foster robotics design by giving students an objective (take care of plants) and a limitation (you can't touch the plants). So how do the little tomato plants survive?

For starters, the plants themselves get some kind of little computer and soil sensors, which they use to calculate when it's time for water or nutrients, or keep track of how many tomato fruits they've grown. With built-in networking, they transmit needs to the robot farmhands, who come by to service them, not just peeing, I mean, watering them, but locating and picking specific fruits, and—get this—pollinating the plants. I still prefer bees for that last part, but mostly because I'm addicted to honey.

My only concern is this: College kids get together to work on an indoor plant growing project, and they come up with... tomatoes? What's with kids these days? [MIT via Make]