The center, which was launched Oct. 8 at the CDA Industry Conference, seeks to develop digital solutions to agricultural roadblocks by bringing together agricultural producers, researchers and industries.
CDA is a collaboration between the university’s Grainger College of Engineering; the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; National Center for Supercomputing Applications; and the Institute for Genomic Biology CDA seeks to leverage Illinois’ historic land-grant pillars of agriculture and engineering and position both to work in tandem towards a digital future.
By combining top-tier programs in both engineering and agriculture, Illinois is uniquely placed to take the lead in such multidisciplinary research. This, in turn, allows the CDA to go further than simply deploying and applying digital improvements. Instead, the Center’s focus will be on the collaborative process of researching and developing new digital techniques and tools to address agricultural problems.
In addition to interdisciplinary research, CDA also will launch multiple partnerships with companies across both agriculture and computing industries, including collaborative research projects, summer internships, and scholarship programs, allowing opportunities for students to flourish in an emerging field-of-study.
A formal industrial-affiliates program will provide member companies with preferred recruiting opportunities, priority for collaborative research and consulting, early access to research outcomes, and licensing opportunities for intellectual property.
More extensive research and development partnerships with individual companies will be a primary goal of the center.
One of the main goals of the center is to bring together teams of faculty, teams of students, spanning both the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture to do joint multidisciplinary research projects, said Vikram Adve, CDA co-director and computer science professor.
“We also have unique degree programs that bring together computer sciences and crop sciences as well as computer sciences and animal sciences with really give students a deep grounding in both areas and these are unique in the country as far as we know. We’re also launching a master’s degree in digital agriculture which is patterned under those two graduate degrees,” he said.
“Working with industry is one of the main goals for the center along with research and education.”
The CDA’s primary research themes are automaton, data, animals and crops, and people.
Current projects include using computer vision to relieve the crop phenotyping bottleneck, algorithms and methods for simplifying autonomy for field robots, addressing effects of soil and water population on health and rural communities and farmer families, and estimating yield and water quality response functions using on-farm precision experimentation, spatially-intense soil sampling, and hyperspectral imagery.
“We have projects in crops and animal agriculture. We have projects in the human side of agriculture. We have projects on both automation of equipment and data science analysis of the data that’s produced by the equipment. We also have a number of educational programs to help deliver the work force that we believe is going to be increasingly important for the future of agriculture,” said Matt Hudson, CDA co-director and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.
“So, they start with non-degree certificate programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. We have joint undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in computer science and crop science and computer science and animal science. We are planning a master’s degree in digital agriculture and we’re also reaching out through out College of Education for education in the K-12 sphere and also through our Extension program to do continuing education for the community.”
“The university has strongly supported this center and we have a very broad vision of what we’re talking about at digital agriculture. Rather than having an emphasis in any one academic discipline, we just want to support solving agricultural problems with digital technologies, and to do so in a way that leverages our unique position in Illinois,” Hudson said.
“Illinois as a state is essentially the center for world agricultural commerce. The university has top ranked colleges of engineering and agriculture. We’re in the middle of highly productive agricultural area, and we have many of the largest agricultural companies nearby. So, we think this combination gives us a unique opportunity to be a leader in this field, and many others have agreed with us and are already investing in the center.”
“The center was founded out of the university with $2 million funding internally to really launch some seed proposals and engage faculty with their interesting projects and get those funded within the center to start that connection between engineering and the college of agriculture,” said Chris Harbourt, entrepreneur, agricultural engineer, and research assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.