Vision for ultra-precision ag: Machine studying, plant sensing, robots tending crops

IMAGE:¬†Researchers on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed small-scale robots that may fertilize, weed and cull single vegetation in a area. This photograph reveals testing in an Iowa State…
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Credit: Photo by Ashlyn Rairdin and courtesy of Soumik Sarkar/Iowa State University

AMES, Iowa – A gardener hoping for a crop of the juiciest summer time tomatoes may are likely to every plant in a plot. But a farmer working to feed the world?

Researchers consider it is doable. They’re making use of and integrating layers of applied sciences – together with sensors, machine studying, synthetic intelligence, high-throughput phenotyping platforms akin to drones and small-scale rolling robots that may additionally fertilize, weed and cull single vegetation in a area – with the final word purpose of changing farmers’ reliance on heavy equipment and broadcast spraying in operations of all sizes.

The researchers name their effort COALESCE – COntext Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agricultural techniques. They have simply gained a five-year, $7 million Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier award collectively funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Introducing the newest cyber capabilities in sensing, modeling and reasoning to the actual world of vegetation and soil, the researchers wrote in a undertaking abstract, will “enable farmers to respond to crop stressors with lower cost, greater agility, and significantly lower environmental impact than current practices.”

The lead principal investigator for the undertaking is Soumik Sarkar, the Walter W. Wilson Faculty Fellow in Engineering and an affiliate professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University. A associate principal investigator is Girish Chowdhary, an affiliate professor of agricultural and organic engineering on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The analysis group additionally contains collaborators from George Mason University in Virginia, the Iowa Soybean Association, Ohio State University and the University of Arizona. (See sidebar for your entire analysis group.)

Beyond precision agriculture

“You hear about precision agriculture all the time,” Sarkar mentioned, referring to the observe of monitoring crops and soils to ensure they get precisely what they want for optimum manufacturing, whereas additionally lowering the necessity for fertilizers, pesticides and different costly and doubtlessly polluting inputs. “Now, we’re trying to move another notch above that.”

Call that “ultra-precision agriculture, which is scale agnostic,” mentioned Asheesh (Danny) Singh, a professor of agronomy and the Bayer Chair in Soybean Breeding at Iowa State.

“A lot of agricultural problems start in a small area of a field,” he mentioned. “We want to localize problems early on – make decisions and start controls before they affect the whole field and adjoining farms. Working at the plant level gives us that ultra-high precision with row crops such as soybeans.”

And, the researchers mentioned, the expertise would even be inexpensive and accessible sufficient to assist producers who develop greens and different specialty crops on farms of varied sizes.

Data-driven choices

The concepts behind COALESCE have been effervescent across the Iowa State campus for years and have led to the creation of a core analysis group: Sarkar; Singh; Baskar Ganapathysubramanian, the Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Professor in Engineering; and Arti Singh, an assistant professor of agronomy.

The concepts have additionally attracted a number of aggressive grants, together with an preliminary grant to the core group from the Iowa Soybean Association with Arti Singh because the principal investigator. There was additionally a three-year seed grant to the core group from Iowa State’s Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research. These grants helped construct the group, make preliminary discoveries and join with different researchers.

An illustration from the seed undertaking – a undertaking known as “Data Driven Discoveries for Agricultural Innovation” – reveals an airplane, three drones and 4 robots amassing information from a area to assist the farmer standing to the aspect.

How can all that information assist a farmer?

“Data science isn’t just about assembling data and making predictions,” Ganapathysubramanian mentioned. “It’s also about making decisions.”

Where, for instance, are vegetation burdened by pests, or dry situations or poor soils? And what might be completed about it?

Thanks to a partnership with the Iowa Soybean Association, these sorts of data-to-decision situations have been mentioned with farmers.

And, mentioned Arti Singh, farmers have an interest within the promise of ultra-precision agriculture.

“They’re the ones who said, ‘Yes, this is possible,'” she mentioned.

But it would take work to get there.

Development of an ultra-precision, cyber-physical system for agriculture “cannot happen without the level of investment provided by this Frontier project,” Asheesh Singh mentioned. “And without the expertise on this team, and the partnership with farmers, work like this cannot happen.”


The COALESCE group

Iowa State University: Soumik Sarkar, Baskar Ganapathysubramanian, Asheesh Singh, Arti Singh and Daren Mueller

  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Girish Chowdhary, Kris Hauser, Girish Krishnan and Radhika Mittal
  • George Mason University: Aditya Johri
  • Iowa Soybean Association: Peter Kyveryga
  • Ohio State University: Darren Drewry
  • University of Arizona: Nirav Merchant and Edwin Skidmore

The COALESCE experience

Here’s how work on the COALESCE undertaking shall be divided among the many collaborators:

  • Iowa State researchers will research machine studying, sensors and plant sciences
  • Illinois researchers will research robotics and actuation
  • George Mason researchers will research workforce improvement and farmer/producer training
  • Iowa Soybean Association will join researchers to farmers
  • Ohio State researchers will research modeling of vegetation
  • Arizona researchers will research cyber infrastructure


Soumik Sarkar, Mechanical Engineering, 515-294-5212,

Baskar Ganapathysubramanian, Mechanical Engineering, 515-294-7442,

Arti Singh, Agronomy, 515-294-0948,

Asheesh Singh, Agronomy, 515-294-3268,

Mike Krapfl, News Service, 515-294-4917,


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