Hackathon aims to solve agriculture challenges

A closeup of five students in front of a projector
Almost 200 students from around the U.S. had the chance to work on two challenges for the agricultural industry as part of the NSF/USDA-NIFA-funded AgAID Institute’s Digital Agathon.

Almost 200 students from around the U.S. had the chance to work on two challenges for the agricultural industry as part of the NSF/USDA-NIFA-funded AgAID Institute’s Digital Agathon. The event was held on the Washington State University Pullman campus as well as in Corvallis, Oregon and Merced, California.

A total of 32 teams from WSU, Oregon State University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and University of California, Merced participated in the event, which was sponsored by the AgAID Institute, and held in partnership with Microsoft and innov8.ag.

“Our hackathon is experiential learning, providing a deep dive into areas of agriculture where artificial intelligence (AI) can help,” said Ananth Kalyanaraman, Boeing Centennial Chair in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the AgAID Institute. “The hackathon gives our students a chance to creatively and collaboratively solve problems in interdisciplinary settings, and in the process learn and apply new.”

The students were given one of two agricultural challenges and had 48 hours to come up with solutions. In one challenge, students were asked to develop computer vision, using AI methods to measure and count apples grown in an apple orchard. The information is important for farmers because they would like to know how their decisions about orchard organization, pruning strategies, watering, fertilization, and harvest scheduling impact their crop yield.

“Estimating the number of apples grown in farms can be a time-consuming and error-prone process during the fast-paced harvest season,” said Kalyanaraman. 

Another challenge had the students develop and apply computer models to forecast winter precipitation in the Sacramento Basin of California. Researchers would like to improve seasonal forecasting to reduce risks to water systems and help water managers manage supplies. 

A WSU team including students Gabriel Compton, John Hadish, Josh Oliver, Michael Oliver, and Shlok Tomar took first prize for the labor challenge competition, while WSU students Nicholas Kraabel, Bhupinderjeet Singh, Krishu Thapa, and Sejal Welanakar took second prize for the water challenge competition.  Muluh Muluh, Meijing Liang, Srikanth Gorthi, and Grant Erickson took fourth prize in the labor challenge. 

The AgAID Institute began in 2021 with a $20 million federal grant. The multi-institutional research institute aims to develop artificial intelligence solutions and workforce to tackle critical agricultural challenges related to labor, water, weather, and climate change. The institute aims to build and foster partnerships between the AI and agriculture communities and create a transdisciplinary ecosystem for technology innovation and knowledge transfer.

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