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CEO of Alphabet's research lab says the company is working on projects related to agriculture

  • Astro Teller, the head of Alphabet's research arm X, said at the MIT Technology Review's EmTech Digital Conference that agriculture is a natural fit for the company.
Scientist Dr. Astro Teller speaks speaks at Goalkeepers 2017, at Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 20, 2017 in New York City.
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Scientist Dr. Astro Teller speaks speaks at Goalkeepers 2017, at Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 20, 2017 in New York City.

The CEO of Alphabet's research and development arm, X, says that the company is working on several projects related to agriculture and food production.

Astro Teller, speaking on stage at MIT Technology Review's EmTech Digital Conference in San Francisco, said that agriculture is a natural focus for X because of the size of the industry and the opportunity for machine learning and artificial intelligence to add efficiencies. The X division — previously called Google X — launched the self-driving car company, Waymo, and currently contains projects like Wing, which is testing delivery drones in Australia, and Loon, which makes internet access-delivering balloons.

Teller declined to talk about specific projects that X is working on, but floated several ideas, like how drones or robots with computer vision could help farmers decide the optimal times to pick their crops, or more specific areas to spread pesticides.

"Having now found a couple threads that we're pulling on successfully, it's actually encouraging us to place some more small bets in the area, and spend some more time out in the field with farmers so that we can understand their world better so that we can help them," Teller said on stage.

X has experimented in agriculture before: It previously tried and failed to work on a vertical farming business.

Teller said that its new projects focus on "shoring up" existing farming practices to make them more efficient rather than "totally reinventing farming."