What if a team of collaborative autonomous robots grew your food for you? In this talk, I will demonstrate some key technological advances that are bringing this future a lot nearer! Equipment manufacturers have been automating large agricultural equipment – tractors, harvesters, and even excavators; but automating large equipment only addresses a part of the agricultural labor crisis. Large equipment cannot be used in wet, muddy, and uneven fields; it cannot be used when the crop canopy grows; and it is expensive. Furthermore, practices like blanket spraying, tilling, and the increasing size of equipment are leading to critical sustainability problems: Herbicide resistant weeds, soil compaction, increasing carbon footprints, and pesticide runoff are just a few of these problems. The focus of this talk is on the new breed of lightweight, compact, and highly autonomous field robots that my group is creating and deploying in fields across the US: TerraSentia. I will also discuss new algorithms for robust long-duration autonomy in harsh, changing, and uncertain environments, including deep learning for robot embedded vision, deep adversarial reinforcement learning for large state-action spaces, and transfer learning for deep reinforcement learning domains..
Girish Chowdhary is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the Coordinated Science Laboratory, and the director of the Distributed Autonomous Systems laboratory at UIUC. At UIUC, Girish is affiliated with Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering. He holds a PhD (2010) from Georgia Institute of Technology in Aerospace Engineering. He was a postdoc at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011-2013), and an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department (2013-2016). He also worked with the German Aerospace Center's (DLR's) Institute of Flight Systems for around three years (2003-2006). Girish's ongoing research interest is in theoretical insights and practical algorithms for adaptive autonomy, with a particular focus on field-robotics. He has authored over 90 peer reviewed publications in various areas of adaptive control, robotics, and autonomy. On the practical side, Girish has led the development and flight-testing of over 10 research UAS platform. UAS autopilots based on Girish’s work have been designed and flight-tested on six UASs, including by independent international institutions. Girish is an investigator on NSF, AFOSR, NASA, ARPA-E, and DOE grants. He is the winner of the Air Force Young Investigator Award, the Aerospace Guidance and Controls Systems Committee Dave Ward Memorial award, and several best paper awards. He is the co-founder of EarthSense Inc., working to make ultralight agricultural robotics a reality.