Engineers to use autonomous tractor to study self-driving mechanisms

October 11, 2023

Two Mizzou Engineers are using Missouri’s first autonomous tractor to better understand self-driving mechanisms and how those systems can work with other technologies.

Professors Prasad Calyam and Ming Xin are co-Principal Investigators on a Department of Agriculture grant that brought the tractor to Mizzou last month. Calyam is Greg L. Gilliom Professor of Cyber Security in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Xin is Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The project is in partnership with researchers from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources who will use the tractor to study precision agriculture.

Prasad Calyam

For Calyam and Xin, the Monarch MK-V tractor provides a large-scale test bed to study autonomous systems in real-world scenarios.

Ming Xin

“How much can we trust these autonomous systems?” Calyam asked. “We’ll be looking at how and why the machine makes decisions, looking at the explainability side of the artificial intelligence.”

The tractor, which runs on electricity, is equipped with sensors and cameras that are connected to a supercomputer inside the roof. Researchers will use that equipment to collect images, map routes and integrated other technologies. Specifically, Calyam and Xin will study how the vehicle serving as a ground robot can operate in conjunction with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as drones.

“We will study and validate the feasibility of an aerial-ground collaborative robotic system, or cobot, in efficient field management and real-time field decision making,” Xin said. “One particular research we will focus on is to investigate how a cobot system can be used to improve the efficiency of farm operations such as pesticide application in large row-crop production. The autonomous tractor will provide a mobile service station for the UAVs to take off, change batteries, download data and refill UAVs’ payload such as spray and seeds.”

The tractor will also be used as a teaching tool for classes focused on developing sensors and control technology.

“This tool will help us train the next generation of students with cutting-edge technologies related to applications in autonomous collaborative robotic systems,” Calyam said.

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