Ken Goldberg investigates robot-assisted precision irrigation to help address global water demand

While the drought seems to flow away with recent California rains, the demand for water in agriculture remains a problem. However, California is not the only place with this issue: all over the world, agriculture consumes at least 70% of the world’s freshwater. 

To help address this problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided University of California researchers a $1 million grant to investigate how robots might help revolutionize global agriculture with precision irrigation. IEOR Professor Ken Goldberg, in collaboration with UC Merced Professor Stefano Carpin and Professor Josh Viers, and UC Davis Professor Stavros Vougioukas, started a project called RAPID (Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery) to utilize robots to reduce water usage while improving yields.

Emerging sensing technologies like the UAVs can provide detailed maps of the ground conditions and water use. However, “One remaining challenge is how to close the loop — how to adjust irrigation based on the aerial image data,” Goldberg said. By utilizing this technology, RAPID closes the loop by analyzing the land and sending signals to specific irrigation lines to control the amount of water delivered. Attached to irrigation lines are small emitters that are controlled by handheld devices or mobile robots. Based on the maps, the devices signal the emitters to adjust water consumption. RAPID is cost effective, compatible with current irrigation systems, reduces water usage, and functions 24 hrs a day. The project will perform field evaluations in wine producing farms in California with existing drip irrigation systems. 

The RAPID co-robotic system has the potential to revolutionize agriculture by significantly reducing water consumption globally while increasing crop yield and quality. “This co-robotics system is the next generation of precision agriculture.” Goldberg said. 

Read more at UC Merced News