The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced $3 million in available funding for robotic research, application, and education for agricultural systems that benefit consumers and rural communities. This 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 robotic 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; and individuals who are U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents. Foreign and international organizations are not eligible.
The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2017. See the request for applications for more detail.
To date, NIFA has funded more than $15 million for research through NRI. 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.
Since 2009, USDA has invested $19 billion in research, both intramural and extramural. During that time, research conducted by USDA scientists has resulted in 883 patent applications filed, 405 patents issued and 1,151 new inventions disclosures covering a wide range of topics and discoveries. To learn more about how USDA supports cutting-edge science and innovation, visit the USDA Medium chapter Food and Ag Science Will Shape Our Future.
Since 2009, NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs support the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability, and ensure food safety.