A revolutionary method using AI to grow crops that are more resilient to climate change is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Plant scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), and counterparts at Dutch universities, have just been given the green light by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), and a budget of €50million, to develop agricultural crops resilient to heat, drought, pests and diseases - without the need for pesticides.

The Plant XR plan shows Amsterdam’s AI scene is moving fast, and importantly, applications of the technology are potentially solving global issues. Read more about Plant XR and other green AI innovations from Amsterdam:

Plant XR

Crops plants growing in a greenhouse via Unsplash

With data and AI technology, plant and data scientists and breeding companies will learn to understand which genes and processes make plants resilient to extreme weather and pests. Until now, agricultural crops have been bred with the main aim of achieving the highest possible yield, losing some age-old properties in the process. Knowledge and technology will draw these properties out, and will form models that breeding companies can implement, eventually making agriculture worldwide sustainable and climate-proof.

From the University of Amsterdam, associate professor Harrold van den Burg of the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences is part of the core team that came up with the idea of using AI to investigate these complex plant properties. “We will look at how we can best use the expertise in the field of AI that we already have here at the UvA to optimise the data analysis,” van den Burg said.

Overstory

Power pole on a hill, forest via unsplash

By applying machine learning to satellite imagery, Overstory wants to become the standard in planet intelligence. The out-of-this-world technology monitors all natural resources on Earth in real time, and AI analyses the satellite images. This aims to help utility companies improve vegetation and infrastructure management to prevent power outages and wildfires related to the electric grid. The insights gained by Overstory will also help the forest industry make informed decisions about nature to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity. With two UvA alumni and a Vrije Universiteit graduate at the helm, Overstory was last month selected by Wired as one of the hottest startups in Amsterdam and it’s just been inducted into EnergyLab’s scaleup programme in Australia.

Dayrize

Rail of clothing fashion via Unsplash

Inspired by the climate crisis protests in 2019, online retailer Dayrize sells strictly sustainable fashion, beauty and health goods. To determine which products pass the planet-friendly test, the Amsterdam company deploys its own AI-powered vetting tool. Products tested on animals or containing microplastics are automatically excluded, and then the team digs into the detail, including where the product was sourced, how useful it is, and how it’s delivered, resulting in a Dayrize Score which helps shoppers make an eco-friendly purchase. The data is also shared with the brands so they can improve their sustainability credentials.

Dayrize has raised €2.8m in pre-launch funding since it was founded in 2020, and it’s also launched in the UK. Dayrize’s goal to bring consumption within planetary boundaries is a key part of doughnut economics – and Amsterdam is the first city in the world to adopt this model.

Land Life Company

Amsterdam Land Life Company using a drone to monitor tree planting

Land Life Company is on a mission to help restore the 2 billion hectares of degraded land in the world. It applies data and technology, including AI, drones and monitoring applications during the planting process so that trees are optimised for quality, scale, speed and high survival rates - and therefore climate impact. Companies looking to offset their carbon footprint fund the large-scale reforestation. According to the Amsterdam-based social enterprise, it restored 1,713 hectares of degraded land in 2020, and will remove 368K tons of CO2 on behalf of its customers. As of January 2021, Ernst-Jan Stigter, former general manager of Microsoft in the Netherlands, joined Land Life Company as the new CEO. Earlier this year it announced a major partnership with fashion retailer Zalando to plant more than 300,000 trees in Spain.

Sympower and AEB

Wind farm via unsplash

Amsterdam cleantech supplier Sympower and Amsterdam’s waste-to-energy plant AEB are developing a smart energy platform, HeatFlex.ai, which will use AI to distribute energy efficiently, helping to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy sources. The platform connects energy producers, users and storage facilities, and uses data and AI prediction techniques to find the most efficient and sustainable way to distribute energy. It can be put to use straight away or stored when it is smartest to do so. It’s a project still in progress, with results expected this autumn. 

Lalaland

Lalaland model

Buying clothes online can be a time-consuming, resource intensive, potentially disappointing process. Lalaland aims to change that by making it a more inclusive experience that benefits shoppers, brands and the planet. Founded by VU graduates Michael Musandu and Ugnius Rimša, the platform uses AI to digitally create models that better reflect the different ethnicities, ages and sizes of shoppers. More online stores are using the platform, which combines on-mannequin photos with AI-generated models. Shoppers see how a product will suit someone who looks more like them, resulting in less waste, fewer return packages and an estimated 10% less CO2 emissions. In June, Lalaland won support from Google’s Black Founders Fund.

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