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New Research Award Will Focus on Improving Farm Managing Operations


April 29, 2021

New Research Award Will Focus on Improving Farm Managing Operations

Imagine a future where farmers use drones, robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring precision to agricultural operations, thereby reducing the use of non-renewable resources, fertilizers and pesticides.

The National Science Foundation’s Cyber-Physical Systems program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently awarded a 5-year, $7 million grant to a research team led by Iowa State University and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to bring the next generation of digital agriculture technologies to Midwest farming.

The award launches the COALESCE—short for COntext Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agriculture systems—Cyber-Physical System, which will focus on the operations of farm management with sensing, modeling and decision making at the level of individual plants. In other words, by focusing on crop stressors at the individual levels, farmers can focus their resources and attention, thus reducing the cost of labor and the use of crop inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, and water. In addition, the COALESCE System will allow smaller-scale farmers to be profitable while increasing safety and minimizing environmental impacts, like chemical runoff and soil compaction.

The project includes researchers from the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, George Mason University and the Iowa Soybean Association. The lead principal investigator is Soumik Sarkar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University; and the principal investigator at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is Girish Chowdhary, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and computer science.

The research team will share its findings with farmers by directly working with agricultural producer groups. Also, researchers will share their discoveries through education and outreach plans designed to reach farm communities, next-generation scientists, and the public. The team will design activities and programs to encourage Native American, Hispanic, African-American and female students to study computing and engineering.

Another goal of this project is to attract the next generation of farmers, who will benefit from automated farming systems that eliminate repetitive tasks, reduce work with toxic materials, and require technical skills and knowledge that go beyond manual labor.

This project constitutes a Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Frontier award, the single largest CPS award that the Foundation makes in any year.

 

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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