Purdue University to collaborate in NSF-funded Engineering Research Center to develop the Internet of Things for precision agriculture

Purdue University will be a partner in a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center created to develop advanced agricultural technologies to address food, energy and water security challenges.

With a five-year, $26 million grant, the NSF has established the Engineering Research Center for the Internet of Things for Precision Agriculture (IoT4Ag). Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) are NSF’s flagship engineering program for convergent research to address large-scale societal challenges.

Photo of IoT4Ag
IoT4Ag researchers will work in three interconnected projects: sensing, communication/energy and response. Tiny, plantable sensors will need to send data to robots and other farm equipment, all of which will also need to be able to talk to the cloud. Finally, all of this data must be integrated with that from the wider internet, and fed back to farmers so they can make better decisions. (Illustration credit: Julie Colton)

The new center, headquartered at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, will combine the talents of more than two dozen researchers with Penn Engineering, Purdue University, University of California Merced, and the University of Florida.

“Participation on the IoT4Ag team will leverage Purdue’s strengths in developing new engineering technologies that will improve agriculture and address global challenges,” said Mark Lundstrom, acting dean of Purdue University’s College of Engineering. “Our involvement will also represent a new chapter in a long history of collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering and Agriculture.”

“This center allows us to continue our long-standing collaboration with the College of Engineering to build critical foundational tools for agriculture,” said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue. “This work continues on the success of the Plant Sciences Initiative and enhances the ability of the WHIN project, a consortium of 10 counties in north-central Indiana, to harness the power of IoT to become a global epicenter for digital agriculture.”

"We are very excited about the new IoT4Ag ERC, which is poised to have a transformational impact on the future of agriculture,” said David J. Cappelleri, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who will serve as co-principal investigator, Purdue site director and Workforce Development co-lead for IoT4Ag. “The engagement of Purdue researchers in all three research thrusts of the center – Agricultural Sensor Systems, Communication and Energy Systems, and Agricultural Response Systems – is a testament to the diverse leadership and collaboration between the Purdue College of Engineering and College of Agriculture."

Purdue faculty will play key roles across the breadth of IoT4Ag research areas. Melba Crawford, the Nancy Uridil and Francis Bossu Professor in Civil Engineering, and Professor of Agronomy and Electrical & Computer Engineering, will serve as the Systems Integration lead for the project. Other Purdue team members are Dennis Buckmaster, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Agricultural Response Systems co-lead; James Krogmeier, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Convergence co-lead; David Love, the Nick Trbovich Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Communication and Energy Systems co-lead; and Tony Vyn, the Henry A. Wallace Chair in Crop Sciences and Professor of Agronomy, and Agricultural Test-beds co-lead.

“The IoT4Ag ERC is particularly significant for Purdue as we now have more than 50 years of collaboration between the College of Engineering and College of Agriculture through the Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing (LARS), which was established as the first interdisciplinary research center at Purdue in 1966,” Crawford said. “The ERC will also leverage Purdue’s commitment to plant science and our recent focus on digital agriculture. We are excited about the collaboration with our university and industrial partners to advance technology in environmental sensing, robotics, and data science in precision agriculture to help meet the demands for food production in the upcoming decades.”

Starting in the soil and reaching into the digital cloud, technologies developed through the IoT4Ag ERC will collect, share and analyze data in order to improve farming practices, maximizing a farm’s productivity while minimizing its waste and ecological impact.

Center researchers will create miniature soil-based sensors and swarms of aerial and ground-based robots, as well as new ways of networking them together in communication-constrained environments. The researchers will also develop high-level data science techniques that will allow data from different sensors in the field to be integrated with data from weather reports and commodity markets, synthesizing it into actionable information.

Part of the ERC mandate is to converge a wide range of academic disciplines in tackling these challenges; another is to develop a diverse and inclusive workforce from across the United States. By partnering with industry and a broad community of students, faculty and professionals, the IoT4Ag Center will create an innovation ecosystem to continue these efforts into the coming decades.

“We need new technology to meet the challenges of a world with a growing population and changing climate,” said Cherie Kagan, the Stephen J. Angello Professor in Penn Engineering’s Departments of Electrical and Systems Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, who is the IoT4Ag Center’s director and principal investigator. “We simply need to produce more crops for every drop of water or Joule of energy we’re currently using to realize a food, energy and water-secure future.”

Collectively, the IoT4Ag Center will educate students, engineers, agriculture professionals and other members of farming communities through audience-specific lessons and hands-on classroom, laboratory and field activities. Bringing together academic, government and industry partners with the farming community, the center will create an innovation ecosystem that ensures the rapid translation of IoT4Ag practices and technologies into commercial products and economic impact.

The IoT4Ag Center is one of four new Engineering Research Centers announced by the NSF on Aug. 4. Purdue also is a partner in another such center, on Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE)

The full University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science release on the IoT4Ag Center may be found here, and NSF details on the center are here.


David J. Cappelleri, 765-494-3719, dcappell@purdue.edu

Melba Crawford, 765-496-3224, mcrawford@purdue.edu