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WSU, Australian scientists partner to form Joint Center for Ag Robotics

Sanaz Jarolmasjed, Chongyuan Zhang and Carlos Zuniga, WSU Biological Systems Engineering graduate students, hold a drone used in phenomics. WSU precision-ag practices help scientists use sensors and drones to understand variability in their crops. Photo by Seth Truscott-WSU CAHNRS.

By Scott Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Sciences

To speed robotic advancements that help farmers grow food with fewer resources, scientists at Washington State University and Australia’s University of Technology Sydney have partnered to form the new Joint Center for Agricultural Robotics.

The first collaboration of its kind for WSU’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems (CPAAS), the partnership joins WSU scientists’ expertise in innovative automation solutions for farms and orchards with pre-eminent research in robotics at the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) Centre for Autonomous Systems.

As Australian scientists toured CPAAS labs and visited partner growers across Washington, WSU Vice President for Research Christopher Keane, UTS Associate Dean Michael Blumenstein, and WSU Associate Vice President Dan Nordquist signed an official agreement launching the center.

“The challenges that we face globally are so complex that no single team has the diversity and breadth of knowledge to solve them alone,” said André-Denis Wright, Dean of the CPAAS’ parent College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. “Relationships work best when they happen just like this one — from the ground, up.”

Signing an agreement creating the new Joint Center for Ag Robotics are, from left, front row, WSU Vice President for Research Christopher Keane; WSU Associate Vice President Dan Nordquist; UTS Associate Dean Michael Blumenstein; back row, WSU CAHNRS Interim Associate Dean for Research Scot Hulbert; WSU CAHNRS Dean André-Denis Wright; UTS Centre for Autonomous Systems Director Dikai Liu; WSU CPAAS Director Qin Zhang. (WSU Photo)

“Bringing our experience in artificial intelligence and robotics together with WSU’s tremendous ag automation and biological systems engineering will bring truly fruitful collaborative outcomes,” said Blumenstein. “The work starts now.”

Solving global challenges

Through innovations like apple-picking robots, sensor-driven high efficiency irrigation systems and crop-sensing drones, discoveries in agricultural automation could boost productivity, save labor, conserve natural resources and reduce dependence on chemicals.

The Joint Center will be overseen by Dikai Liu, director of the Centre for Autonomous Systems, and Qin Zhang, director of CPAAS, and jointly directed by Manoj Karkee, associate professor of Biological Systems Engineering at WSU, and Robert Fitch, acting head of UTS’ School of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering.

Researchers at both institutions have been exchanging ideas and discussing collaboration since 2015. Now, creation of the Joint Center could spur team projects, joint workshops, conferences and publications, exchange of students and faculty, and joint applications for grant funding.

“When you do great things, you attract great things,” said Wright. “This partnership will advance the forefront of science to benefit both our countries.”

To learn more see the CPAAS and UTS websites.

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