Future agricultural workers learn technological farming practices

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The proliferation of technology, in particular emerging platforms and services that deploy sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI), creates opportunities for improving society.

Through a new large collaborative grant funded by the National Science Foundation, Aditya Johri, professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology, will work with researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on use-inspired research to address one of the world’s grand challenges‑‑sustainably feeding the nearly 9 billion people who will inhabit the Earth by 2050.

The project will use Cyber-Physical System (CPS) capabilities such as sensors, in conjunction with AI, machine learning, and robotics to conduct plant-level sensing, modeling, and reasoning to help improve their agricultural practices.

The collaboration between computer scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers, agriculture specialists, and computing and engineering education experts provides a unique multidisciplinary opportunity, says Johri. “This project addresses the Computing for All emphasis within computing education and will study how we can convey the complexities of what computing makes possible to more people,” he says.

Johri conducts research on technology workforce development. He says, “If we want to reap the benefits of AI equitably, we have to understand the actual needs of users and then translate research into practices that work for them. We accelerate this process by educating the end-user about how AI might serve their needs.”

To facilitate broader acceptance of this project’s technical work, the team will leverage a robust workforce development and training framework to connect with farmers and agriculture extension staff. In addition to research on workforce training, the project will also engage with the larger CPS community and the public for its broadening participation and outreach efforts.

Johri’s work on the project is supported by an NSF-funded $5 million multi-institutional effort ($400,000 to Mason) through the CPS program. Led by Principal Investigator Soumik Sarkar of Iowa State University, the project also includes a significant collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This project constitutes a Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Frontier award, the single largest CPS award that the Foundation makes in any year.

NSF Abstract # 1954556 CPS: Frontier: Collaborative Research: COALESCE: Context-Aware Learning for Sustainable Cyber-Agricultural Systems