Microsoft is using artificial intelligence technology to bring data to farming and prevent disease outbreaks through its Azure cloud platform.

Dubbed AI for Earth, the new program will center around AI-based projects in agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change. Microsoft will provide access to cloud and AI computing resources, technology trainings, and lighthouse projects. This totals up to be a $2 million commitment in the company’s next fiscal year.

For instance, Microsoft believes that AI in agriculture can help people efficiently monitor the health of farms in real time; AI in water can help people model Earth’s water supply to help us conserve and protect fresh water; AI in biodiversity can help people accelerate the discovery, monitoring, and protection of biodiversity across the planet; and AI in climate change can provide more accurate climate change predictions to help reduce potential impact on communities.

The program consists of three pillars: access, education, and innovation.

For access, Microsoft is making a pool of grants available for researchers and organizations to gain access to cloud and AI computing resources. This is run through Azure for Research, and will give access to Azure compute time and the company’s data science virtual machine offerings.

You can check out the grant applications now. The deadline to apply is August 15, 2017.

With education, Microsoft aims to help organizations learn what kind of AI technology and tools are out there. “Our approach will be both broad and deep, reaching many people through general session trainings, as well as small group faculty summits on single issue areas and training for frantees,” the company said in a statement.

Innovation centers around lighthouse projects that can demonstrate how AI can deliver improved results. Currently there are three projects in development.

  • Land Cover Mapping – Microsoft is using Azure and focused machine learning for land cover mapping tools to help a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to conserve the Chesapeake watershed in Virginia. You can check out the video below to see it in action.

  • Project Premonition – Smart mosquito traps can be used to remotely track and monitor various animals in the environment. It aims to detect and track pathogens more rapidly and accurately so that outbreaks of all kinds can be prevented.
  • FarmBeats – This is smart agriculture through sensors, drones, data, and broadband connectivity. It uses the cloud and machine learning to create data-driven farming and can provide insights into agricultural yield, cost reduction, and the environmental impact from farming.

To take charge of this program, Microsoft has appointed Lucas Joppa, the longtime lead on computational ecology at Microsoft Research, as the company’s chief environmental scientist.

The news comes less than a year since Microsoft launched a dedicated AI and research team.

 



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