UNF awarded NSF grant for use of autonomous robotics in agriculture


The University of North Florida College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, in collaboration with the University of Central Florida (UCF), has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for collaborative research in the use of autonomous robotics for agriculture in Northeast Florida.

The $499K research grant, led by UNF School of Computing and School of Engineering faculty and supported by a UCF computer science faculty collaborator, will focus on efficient and secure agricultural information collection using a multi-robot system.

“As world population continues to grow and agricultural lands diminish, it is essential to maximize crop yield,” said Dr. Ayan Dutta, UNF computing assistant professor and lead researcher. “This project will aid farmers by helping them to utilize safe, efficient robotic technology to securely collect the information needed to improve production, protect crop health and mitigate pests and disease.”

Dutta is working in collaboration with two UNF faculty members, Dr. Swapnoneel Roy, computing associate professor, and Dr. Patrick Kreidl, electrical engineering associate professor, as well as numerous UNF undergraduate and graduate students. The team will conduct basic and applied data-driven research in controlled simulation labs and then test their findings with local Northeast Florida farmland partners using multiple aerial robots for real agricultural information collection.

The project will utilize multiple autonomous robots that communicate wirelessly to perform agricultural tasks, such as harvesting and pesticide/fertilizer applications. The research team will determine how the robots can best collect and share real-time data to adapt to field and crop conditions, as well as use secure communication and autonomous decision-making. The security of the inter-robot communications and mitigating adversarial influence that targets the integrity of collected data are important components of the project.

This research anticipates the growing adoption of precision agriculture solutions in farmland operations. It seeks to deliver a prototype multi-robot agricultural information collection system that is simultaneously autonomous, efficient and secure, while also contributing to fundamental knowledge about cyber-physical system development in general. Project plans include regional workshops to promote technical interchange between faculty and student academic computing/engineering researchers and the farmers and technologists who make up the agricultural industry stakeholders.

This project aligns with the memorandum of understanding between UNF and UCF that provides a conduit for computing and engineering master’s students at UNF to transition seamlessly into doctoral programs at UCF. 

The project represents a culmination of multiple existing collaborations, including internal development grants by Dutta and Kreidl that began in 2018 and educational activities by Roy and Kreidl since 2016, that captured UNF’s recent federal designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense as well as UNF/UCF Cyber Florida’s collaborative research grants by Roy and Chatterjee since 2018.