Jun 21, 2023
Farm Robotics Challenge winners named
Hanif Houston, The VINE

A robot designed to reduce farmworker injuries and streamline harvest took the top prize in the Farm Robotics Challenge 2023.

The challenge spotlighted the exceptional innovation and technical prowess of students from universities across the U.S. Teams from the University of California-Davis, the University of Nebraska and UC-Santa Cruz were presented awards in a virtual ceremony June 3. Organized by the AI Institute for Next Gen Food Systems (AIFS), The VINEFresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation and farm-ng, the inaugural annual event celebrated student innovators’ contributions to the advancement of agricultural technology.

The UC-Davis Robo-Ag Team earned the Elegance in Design Prize. Photos courtesy UC-Davis.

The Farm Robotics Challenge, sponsored by Beck’s Hybrids, provided a platform for students to demonstrate engineering, computer science, critical thinking and business skills. They engaged in real-world farming scenarios, creating and programming farm robots using the farm-ng platform. The contest demonstrated how students can apply technology and innovation against challenges in agriculture.

The awards ceremony recognized the following teams for their exceptional contributions:

A group of University of California-Davis students received the grand prize for the inaugural Farm Robotics Challenge.
  • Grand prize winner — Amiggie from UC-Davis, a robot designed to assist human pickers and streamline harvest operations. The robot monitors risky postures, carries harvested crops, and streamlines the unloading process for increased efficiency. Team advisors were Juan Fernando Villacres, Guilherme De Moura Araujo and Lance Halsted. Students on the UC-Davis team were Kaiming Fu, Yuankai Zhu, Xuchang Tang, Qikai Gao, Shuchen Ye, Hualong Yu, Yihan Wu, Jinduo Guo, Hang Ji and Xiaotan “Molly” Mo.
  • Complexity in Design Prize — Huskerbot from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an innovative robot that combines machine learning and precise herbicide application for more sustainable farming. The team’s advisor was Santosh K. Pitla and participating students were Amlan Balabantaray, Shaswati Behera, Nipuna Chamara Abeysinghe Herath Mudiyanselag, Krishna Muvva, Kaden Monk, Kashish Syed, Zane Rikli and Ryleigh Grove.
The University of Nebraksa-Lincoln received the Complexity in Design Award.
  • Elegance in Design Prize — Robo-ag from UC-Davis, an autonomous robot designed to target pesticide application to minimize chemical waste and environmental impact. Team advisors were Mason Earles, Alex Olenskyj and Vivian Vuong, and participating students were Heesup Yun, Earl Ranario, Nishi Bhagat, Riya Desai, Connor Davainis, Summer Reeves, and Amir Mazraawi.
  • Small Farms Robot Design Prize — Electrified Slugs from UC-Santa Cruz, autonomous navigation software that efficiently weeds plant lines on small organic farms. Team advisors were Dejan Milutinovic and Darryl Wong, and participating students were Oliver Fuchs, Joshua Gamlen and Katherine Rogacheva.

Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and founder of the VINE, commended the competition’s success.

“The Farm Robotics Challenge is about shaping the future of agriculture by inspiring the next generation of ag tech pioneers,” Youtsey said in a news release. “The ideas that emerged from this competition are solutions for today’s farming challenges, highlighting how technology can contribute to a more sustainable, productive and resilient food system.”

Ethan Rublee, CEO and founder of farm-ng, was highly impressed by the dedication, creativity and vision demonstrated by the student teams.

“The innovative solutions these students have engineered is a testament to their determination and ingenuity,” Rublee said in the release. “They’re not just addressing the challenges facing agriculture today — they’re proactively anticipating the problems of tomorrow. It’s truly exciting to imagine where their ideas will take us in the future.”

The Electrified Slugs from UC-Santa Cruz won the Small Farms Robot Design Prize.

Steve Brown, AIFS associate director, commended the students for being a part of a meaningful moment in the history of agriculture.

“With two billion more people to feed in the next 25 years, there are grand challenges that this generation realizes are directly in front of them, and they are meeting those challenges,” Brown said in the release. “It was encouraging to see the imagination of this generation of makers of all talents leveraging technology, which is now able to bring their ideas to life.”

In addition to recognition and prize money — $10,000 for the grand prize winner and $5,000 for each category winner — the Farm Robotics Challenge winners will have the opportunity to showcase their innovative projects at FIRA USA 2023, Sept. 19-21. This premier event in Salinas, California, serves as a global stage for agricultural technology innovation, presenting an opportunity for these young innovators to make their mark on an international level. Learn more about FIRA USA 2023 and register at https://fira-usa.com.

“All participating teams deserve recognition for their dedication, hard work and innovative solutions,” Youtsey said in the release.

Other competitors included Autonomous Pasture Weeding Robot and Autonomous Lettuce Weeding Robot from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo; Team Klaatu from UC-Santa Barbara; The Maize Runners from Brigham Young University; Team 307, Team 306, and Bobcats from UC-Merced; TartanPest from Carnegie Mellon University; Children of the Corn, Dig Doug, and PruneScape from Purdue University; and SARDOG from Fresno State.

For more information about the Farm Robotics Challenge and future events, visit https://farmbot.ai.

Hanif Houston, The VINE

Top photo: A group of University of California-Davis students received the grand prize for the inaugural Farm Robotics Challenge.


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