ABE and CDA establish the Illinois Autonomous Farm

January 13, 2021

The Illinois Autonomous Farm (IAF) unites researchers, industry leaders, educators, and stakeholders to drive research, education, and outreach for autonomous systems in agriculture across Illinois. Launched in 2020 as a joint effort between the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) and the Illinois Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA), the IAF is a shared testbed facility to advance artificial intelligence (AI) research for agriculture in four key areas:

  • Under canopy, high-throughput field phenotyping with compact robots and sensors
  • Commodity crop weeding and spraying robots and soil sensor networks
  • Urban food gardening with rail mounted and low-cost mobile robots
  • Plant manipulation in berry and nut orchards with low-cost mobile robots and soft manipulators
  • Field-robotics and autonomous systems for agriculture and other outdoor applications

The IAF is located on the ABE Farm Research and Training Center in Urbana, Illinois. In 2020, IAF spanned an area of approximately four acres; it will expand to 10 acres of corn-soybean rotations in 2021 with additional establishments for vegetables, fruit, and nut orchards and polycultures. The ABE farm provides the IAF with access to key facilities, such as a solar-powered operating station, high-speed internet, and flexibility to expand its acreage as future projects demand.

Girish Chowdhary, Associate Professor in ABE and Computer Science, Donald Biggar Willet Faculty Fellow, and ACES Office of Research Faculty Fellow is the IAF Chief Scientist. The farm is managed with the help of research engineers, including Sri Theja Vuppala and Tim Lecher. In 2020, five other faculty members from the Grainger College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences participated in active projects at IAF. 

The IAF is driving key research, education, and outreach activities designed to improve farmer productivity, sustainability, and profitability, as well as accelerate new opportunities in high-tech agriculture and outdoor AI. Leveraging the testbed, the IAF team will also assess issues involving the human impacts of AI in agriculture, including safety, retraining, and job creation.

To achieve the goals, the team is working with the Illinois Center for Autonomy, John Deere, EarthSense, Microsoft, and other industry partners. These current partners have provided significant donations of sensors, robots, and resources, including Farmbeats sensor hubs and cloud support from Microsoft, and robots from EarthSense.

For more information about the Illinois Autonomous Farm and to find out how your organization can be involved, contact Girish Chowdhary (girishc@illinois.edu).