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Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t just used to power electronics, apps or self-driving cars — it’s also driving key innovations in agriculture. From sensors that can monitor soil and water to autonomous robots that can harvest crops, AI is making farming more efficient, sustainable and cost effective.

In an effort to expand the use of AI in agriculture, several UCF researchers will work together to develop several AI-driven technologies that aim to improve the industry’s field operations. The team is supported by a $2.74 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The funded project will specifically enhance the agricultural applications produced by the AI Institute for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support (AgAID), an institute funded by NIFA.

Leading the charge for UCF is Professor Yunjun Xu of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He will use his expertise to develop AI methods for motion control and scheduling in agricultural robots. These autonomous ground robots are used to conduct several operations in open fields such as detecting diseases and harvesting crops.

Collaborating with Xu are Professor Ladislau Bölöni of the Department of Computer Science and Assistant Professor Chen Chen from the Center for Research in Computer Vision. Bölöni will strive to integrate AI into the manipulation of agricultural robotic arms to improve the way they interact with their physical environment, while Chen will investigate a new AI method for the sensors used in precision agriculture, a farming practice that uses technology to make more accurate and informed decisions.

Also on the project is chemistry Professor Swadeshmukul Santra, who will work with Chen and Xu to integrate AI into the analysis of pesticide residues.

The UCF team hopes that these technologies will be of use to both current and future generations of farmers and AgAID researchers.

“We anticipate that each AI method will advance its respective state-of-the-art technology and can have performance superior to existing or traditional methods,” Xu says. “We also hope to inspire more people, especially younger generations, to join the U.S. agricultural sector workforce.”

To spark an interest in agriculture, the UCF researchers plan to coordinate various outreach activities for students including a summer exchange program and workshops. They also plan to develop a new course and training materials around this work, which will be facilitated with the help of graduate students.

The project is funded via the NIFA interagency application program in conjunction with the U.S. National Science Foundation.

About the Researchers

Xu joined UCF as an assistant professor in 2008. He earned his doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Florida. His research interests include agricultural robots, control theory and flying vehicles. He is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Bölöni is a professor of computer science and the co-director of the AI Things Laboratory at UCF. He has secondary joint appointments in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Center for Research in Computer Vision. He is also a member of the UCF Cluster for Disability, Aging and Technology. He received his doctoral and master’s degrees from Purdue University. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a senior member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon honorary society.

Chen is an assistant professor at the Center for Research in Computer Vision and previously served as a postdoctoral scholar for the center. His main research interests are computer vision, image and video processing, and machine learning. He earned his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Santra holds a doctorate in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. After graduating, he worked at the University of Florida (UF) as a postdoctoral researcher and later as a research assistant professor at the UF Department of Neurological Surgery and Particle Engineering Research Center. In 2005, Santra joined UCF as an assistant professor at the NanoScience Technology Center, the Department of Chemistry and the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. He is the director of the UCF Materials Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture center, a USDA-NIFA-recognized Center of Excellence.