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NMSU engineering professor awarded grant to study robotics in chile pepper production

Tiffany Acosta | Public Information Officer | | 575-646-3929

In 2020, Mahdi Haghshenas-Jaryani, New Mexico State University mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor, began studying the use of robotics in chile pepper farming. Now, Haghshenas-Jaryani has been awarded a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The three-year, $727,981 grant supports his project, “Robot-Enabled Soil and Crops Monitoring for Precision Agriculture and Water Management in New Mexico Green Chile Pepper Farming.”

Haghshenas-Jaryani’s first agricultural project started with a collaboration with NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and a grant from NMSU’s Center of Excellence in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems.

For the current project, Haghshenas-Jaryani will work with co-principal investigators Stephanie Walker, NMSU Extension vegetable specialist; Manoj Shukla, NMSU Plant and Environmental Sciences professor; and Hakki Erhan Sevil, University of West Florida intelligent systems and robotics assistant professor.

“We hope to help farmers in New Mexico, especially chile pepper growers, utilize this robotics technology to address challenges related to water scarcity and soil management,” Haghshenas-Jaryani said.

For the past 20 years, chile pepper production has declined because New Mexico chile pepper farmers have dealt with issues such as long-term drought, labor shortages, water scarcity, soil salinization, inefficiency in water and nutrient management, and increasing costs.

“Robot-enabled precision farming can offer essential tools for addressing these issues by gathering real-time data from the farm and developing data-driven models that help with more water-use efficiency and productivity, while managing irrigation and soil quality to enhance agricultural productivity sustainably,” Haghshenas-Jaryani said. “These advanced technologies that have benefited other crops have not yet been explored for chile pepper production.”

To accomplish the goal, the team will focus on four objectives: investigation of environment-aware autonomous mobile manipulation for soil and crops monitoring and data collection; distributed and fault tolerant multi-agent task and motion planning for co-robot team coordination; data-driven agricultural assessment and diagnostics of field condition for water, soil and nutrient management; and testing and evaluation of the proposed co-robot team operation and capabilities in controlled experiments for on-farm data collection, improving crops quality and yield, and water usage reduction on testing fields.

Haghshenas-Jaryani acknowledges the obstacles the team faces with using robotics in agricultural settings.

“Most robots work fairly well inside laboratories under controlled conditions; the most significant challenge would be when we take them outdoors in the real world where everything is uncontrolled, such as unstructured or rough terrains, varying lights, weather conditions, and facing dynamically varying farming fields through the entire farming season from planting to harvesting stages,” Haghshenas-Jaryani said.

To confront the challenges, the team will use Sevil’s expertise in guidance, navigation and control of multi-agent autonomous systems to create adaptive algorithms to operate the robots on chile pepper farms and monitor crops and collect data for water and soil management.

In addition to the research components, this project will include both educational and outreach and Extension elements.

“We aim to involve students from both engineering and agricultural sciences to work on this project, where they will learn about robotics and farming, as well as how technology and smart farming can help address challenges related to sustainable and eco-friendly food production.” Haghshenas-Jaryani said. “We also plan to introduce farmers to these robot-enabled technologies by sharing information about our research progress and getting their feedback, which would help us to identify the real needs and problems in the current farming practice and develop robotic systems to address them.”