USDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Research

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for robotics research, application and education for agricultural systems that benefit consumers and rural communities.

The funding is made available through the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), a federal research partnership that includes NIFA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Defense and Department of Energy.

“These technologies are helping meet farm labor needs and making farming safer, more efficient, and more profitable,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “With each year of investment in agricultural robotic research we learn more about how humans can benefit from automation in the field.”

The goal of the NRI program is to speed the development and use of robots that work alongside or cooperatively with people in agriculture. This latest funding opportunity supports research on the scalability and variety of collaborative human-robot (co-robot) interactions. Areas of focus include collaborative robots/humans teams, robots that can be easily customized and infrastructure that lowers barriers to entry into the field of co-robots.

Additionally, the program encourages research to introduce robotics in educational curricula and research to better understand the long-term social, behavioral and economic implications of co-robots across all areas of human activity.

NIFA encourages robotics research, applications and education to enhance agricultural production, processing and distribution systems that benefit consumers and rural communities.

Research proposals should address USDA goals, such as protecting agricultural health to ensure access to safe, plentiful and nutritious food; increasing agricultural opportunities by supporting a competitive agricultural system; contributing to clean and abundant water by protecting and enhancing water resources; and ensuring that U.S. agricultural resources contribute to global food security.

NIFA will consider projects comprising one or more investigators, budgets of approximately $150,000 to $300,000 per year in total costs and durations of two to five years. Eligible applicants include State agricultural experiment stations; colleges and universities; other research institutions; federal agencies; corporations; individuals who are U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents. Foreign and international organizations are not eligible.

The deadline for applications is February 2.

To date, NIFA has funded more than $15 million for research through the National Robotics Initiative. Previous projects include University of Minnesota work to develop algorithms that allow off-the-shelf robotics to work autonomously in complex environments such as apple orchards. Another project led by the University of Pennsylvania uses human-operated drones to produce high-resolution, multidimensional maps to improve the efficiency and yield of farm operations.

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