Right now in today’s vast agricultural fields, teams of semi-autonomous, low-cost, and intelligent robots are scanning fields of corn and providing measurements that will allow breeders to better characterize the environment and breed better seeds. The next task will be for these robots to autonomously collect more complex information that will allow for earlier detection of plant diseases and nutritional deficiencies.

Drones are commonly used for the collection of data in large-scale farming today, but the robots that are being designed in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at the University of Illinois can detect what’s unobservable by drones by harnessing a higher level of resolution that can only be achieved from working under the canopy. What’s the third task planned for these robots? Acts of manipulation, such as weeding and pruning, which will be unprecedented.

As an assistant professor working on this project, Girish Chowdhary discusses how the deployment and development of these robots will cause us to rethink the way we do agriculture and allow for the globe to be fed in a sustainable way from small gardens with multiple plants. However, he also discusses some of the biggest challenges, which involve the varying and unpredictable nature of outdoor environments. Will robots be able to learn to operate intelligently enough to mitigate uncertainty and unforeseen changes?

Tune in for the full discussion, reach out to Girish via email at girishc@illinois.edu, and visit daslab.illinois.edu for more information.

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