A University of Colorado at Boulder invention optioned to AgriHouse, a Colorado-based company, may soon enable corn and potato crops to "talk" to farmers about when they need water and how much they need. A tiny sensor clips on to plant leaves and charts their thickness, a key measure of water deficiency and accompanying stress, according to Hans-Dieter Seelig of CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technology Center.

The non-intrusive device sends data from the leaves wirelessly over the Internet to computers linked to irrigation equipment, ensuring timely watering, and cutting down on excessive water and energy use. Less than one-tenth the size of a postage stamp, the sensor consists of an integrated-circuit chip that clips to individual plant leaves and collects and stores information. When the leaves lose enough water to contract to a critical width, the sensor wirelessly signals computers.

The computers could instruct individual irrigation systems to dispense set amounts of water to particular crops, automatically turning the motors that drive them, and conserving water and energy in the process.

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