US (IL): iSEE seed-funds project on high tunnel farming with robotics

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is providing seed funding for research projects that will use automation to reduce manual labor costs in small urban farming operations.

The Robot Integrated High Tunnels (RobInHighTs) project will use AI-powered robotics to automate operations for high tunnels at the Sustainable Student Farm – leading to improved crop yields, reduced manual labor costs, and higher profits. The team will also evaluate the profitability of RobInHighTs and identify barriers to their use by urban and minority farmers. The project seeks to demonstrate that AI-powered robotics ultimately can help transition amateur urban gardeners and growers into profitable long-term farmers, enabling efficient and fresh local food production and opening up new income streams for small and underserved communities.   

The project team is led by Naveen Kumar Uppalapati, National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Team members include Kacie Athey, Crop Sciences; Girish Chowdhary, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science; Shady Atallah, Agricultural and Consumer Economics; and Girish Krishnan, Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering.

The project is funded through iSEE’s 2023 Campus as a Living Laboratory (CALL) program, which supports research teams that tackle interdisciplinary sustainability issues on campus or in neighboring communities.


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