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Can machine learning, artificial intelligence and advanced computing help to make farming more efficient? The COALESCE (COntext Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agriculture systems) initiative, a $7 million project funded via the National Science Foundation’s Cyber Physical Systems program and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, seeks to combine all of these domains for agricultural benefit.

Co-led by Girish Chowdary, an associate professor at the Center for Digital Agriculture at NCSA, COALESCE seeks to innovate using a combination of non-traditional digital agricultural tools, like robotics and modeling, and physical tools, like sensors and drones.

“The COALESCE project will help advance the foundations and practice of Cyber Physical Systems for agricultural monitoring and management,” said Chowdhary. “In this collaborative project, the Illinois team will focus on foundational advances to algorithms and AI for distributed robotic CPS for providing individualized care to plants in large agricultural fields. We are greatly looking forward to working with the Illinois Autonomous Farm as a testbed for our technologies.”

In the future,it’s the hope that this research will lead the way to more digitally integrated farming, which will in turn allow agricultural producers access to more targeted solutions. Instead of making decisions on a large scale, farmers will be able to harness the power of robotics to make decisions on an individual plant scale.

Subsequently, this will allow farmers to save money on the amount of fertilizers and chemicals needed, reduce chemical runoff due to more targeted usage, improve soil health due to reduced chemical degradation and nutrient loss, and even lower a critical cost barrier for small-scale farms, all with the help of computing.

The COALESCE project will also leverage the Illinois Autonomous Farm as a testing ground for various projects, allowing researchers to get hands-on experience in a real-world environment.

COALESCE is led by Soumik Sarkar of Iowa State University and Girish Chowdhary of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and includes collaborators from both of those institutions, the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, George Mason University and the Iowa Soybean Association. Other PIs from the University of Illinois include Girish Krishnan, Radhika Mittal, and Kris Hauser.

Read more from COALESCE here:

‘COntext-Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agricultural systems’ seeks to design a scale-agnostic, cyber-agricultural system that provides individualized plant management (i.e., customized treatment for each individual plant/plot) over farm-level coverage areas. COALESCE is a trans-disciplinary team seeking to bring cyber- physical principles to sustainable agriculture. To achieve this, key technological innovations include the adaptation of individualized sensing, individualized modeling, and individualized actuation via context-aware machine learning and coordinated teams of robots that are enabled by autonomy algorithms, soft and dexterous manipulators and adaptive networking algorithms.