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Researchers studying water conservation using artificial intelligence

October 14, 2021 -  By
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Drone footage shows turf research at the University of Georgia Tifton (Source: University of Georgia)

Drone footage shows turf research at the University of Georgia Tifton (Source: University of Georgia)

Researchers at three University of Georgia (UGA) campuses, Rutgers University and the University of California, Riverside, plan to study how artificial intelligence (AI) can better manage turfgrass irrigation.

The schools received a five-year, $4 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study turfgrass management.

Called “Mobile Remote Sensing and Artificial Intelligence – Guided Precision Management Program for Turfgrass Water Conservation,” the project will focus on developing a mobile sensing system to collect soil, environmental and turf characteristic data under different irrigation programs for warm- and cool-season turfgrasses.

The research team includes Gerald Henry, Ph.D., UGA professor of turfgrass management will work at UGA Athens, David Jespersen, Ph.D., UGA turfgrass physiologist and Clint Waltz, Ph.D., UGA turfgrass extension specialist will work at UGA Griffin. Brian Schwartz, Ph.D., UGA associate professor of crop and soil sciences and Jing Zhang, Ph.D., a turfgrass research scientist in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), will work at UGA Tifton.

“There has been a critical need for water conservation in turfgrass,” said Zhang, who is the co-director for the project. “With advancements in sensors, robotics and data science, it is time to develop a user-friendly support system to guide smart irrigation, which is very much needed in the industry.”

Researchers will use drones equipped with sensors, multi-spectral imaging abilities and infrared technology to collect data. Jespersen also said that the team hopes to have a robot on the ground for soil sensing and to measure nutrients in the soil.

“Our remote sensing tools are becoming more impactful. Thirty years ago, it was just workers walking the research plots and visually rating them,” said Jespersen. “We are at the forefront of being able to leverage technology to be more sustainable.”

Rutgers researchers will conduct a socioeconomic analysis to identify social and economic factors to better understand the cost effectiveness associated with the system.

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