A.I. turns 57 million crop fields into stunning abstract art

Detailed (and beautiful) information on 57 million crop fields across the U.S. and Europe are now available online.

  • Using satellite images and artificial intelligence, OneSoil wants to make 'precision farming' available to the world.
  • The start-up from Belarus has already processed the U.S. and Europe, and aims for global coverage by 2020.
  • The map is practical, and more — browse 'Random Beautiful Fields' at the touch of a button.

Where farming meets art

Image: OneSoil

Circular crop farming near Sublette, in southwestern Kansas.

This is where precision farming meets abstract art. OneSoil, an agritech start-up from Belarus, has just launched an interactive digital map of crop data for more than 57 million fields across the U.S. and Europe.

The map provides detailed information on various crop types in 43 countries collected over the past three years, allowing users to see how fields have changed from 2016 to 2018.

The OneSoil map makes local and global trends in crop production available to everyone with a stake in farming. In so doing, it helps predict market performance of these crops, and aids decision-making by farmers and traders.

Random fields

Image: OneSoil

Atypically square for Europe, these fields are in Flevoland, the Dutch province reclaimed from the sea.

But the map is more than just practical. It boasts a 'Random Beautiful Fields' button that could keep you occupied for the next few hours. As the company's website says, "the map is a great interactive tool for students and researchers. And last but not least, it is simply fun."

The data for the OneSoil map comes from open-source satellite imagery released by ESA, the European Space Agency. By a combination of computerized visual analysis and machine-learning algorithms, OneSoil has been able to distinguish between 19 different crops with 92% accuracy. The map provides info on hectarage, crop and country crop rating.

'Precision farming'

Image: OneSoil

Order meets chaos in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

It's part of OneSoil's 'precision farming' platform, designed to help farmers monitor their fields and calculate the amount of fertilizers they need to apply. Agricultural professionals can use the free platform to share notes with their colleagues.

"The world's population is constantly growing, but the amount of agricultural land remains the same. [So] farming must be more effective than ever before", says Slava Mazai, OneSoil co-founder and CEO.

Launched in 2017, OneSoil says its aim is "to make precision farming available to everyone." The company will continue to add countries and data to its map. It projects its map will cover all arable land on the planet by 2020.

Silicon Valley (Belarus version)

Image: OneSoil

Sunflowers (light blue) and wheat (red) dominate the area around Kurhanne in Crimea (de jure part of Ukraine, de facto annexed by Russia).

So far, OneSoil has raised half a million dollars in venture capital funding, but it has yet to make money. While the company says its platform will always remain free for small- and medium-sized farms (of up to 100 fields or 10,000 hectares), it will roll out paid services for larger agro-businesses, and is exploring how to create and sell analytical reports based on the data it generates.

OneSoil is based in Belarus' version of Silicon Valley. Located just outside the capital Minsk, High-Tech Park (HTP) is a special economic zone with low taxes and less regulations, in order to stimulate the growth of an export-oriented ICT industry.

Last dictatorship

Image: OneSoil

Sugarcane country (dark blue) near Belle Glade, in southern Florida.

Over the past few years, HTP has grown rapidly to become one of Eastern Europe's major hubs for the development of artificial intelligence. Almost 400 companies reside in HTP, with a total of more than 30,000 employees.

One of Europe's more obscure countries, Belarus is wedged between Poland and Russia. It has been dubbed 'Europe's last dictatorship'; its president Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994—the longest-serving head of state in Europe, not counting kings and queens.

Mouth of the Elbe

Image: OneSoil

Grass, wheat and maize (yellow) near the mouth of the Elbe river in the German state of Lower Saxony.

For more, visit the map on the OneSoil website.

Strange Maps #947

Many thanks to all who sent in this map. Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Global warming forecast: Cloudy with a chance of forced migration and obedience to Russia



3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Where do atoms come from? Billions of years of cosmic fireworks.

The periodic table was a lot simpler at the beginning of the universe.

10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Keep reading Show less

An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.