High-tech innovations that are shaping agriculture’s future will be showcased during a three-day event at Purdue University alongside an international competition of autonomous robots going head-to-head to complete farm-related tasks.
The College of Agriculture has partnered with Gerrish Farms for the NextGen Expo and agBOT Challenge 2019, which will take place May 16-18 at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE), 4540 U.S. 52 West, West Lafayette. The events provide a venue for farmers, entrepreneurs, teachers, club leaders, students and agtech innovators to see a variety of unmanned machine innovations and participate in hand-on activities.
“Both events offer a glimpse into the future of how unmanned vehicles and other technologies will impact agriculture and society at large,” said Ronald Turco, head of Purdue’s Department of Agronomy. “These tools are almost certainly going to be critical to help farmers produce the food that will be required to feed a growing global population, and they also show what is possible with high-speed broadband.”
The NextGen Expo, an interactive STEM fair, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 16. There will be interactive exhibits that cover industry, farm management, agronomy, robotics, crop production, soil health, engineering, botany, computer science, artificial intelligence, weed science, rural broadband and others.
Part of Purdue’s 150th celebration’s Ideas Festival, the event’s activities center on the broader question of “What IF high-speed broadband reached everyone?”
“We wanted to showcase the need for broadband to enhance agriculture, education and health care in rural areas,” said Rachel Gerrish, the event’s senior executive producer. “NextGen reaches far beyond an agriculture audience. It’s a perfect learning opportunity for students – high school, middle school and elementary – as well as educators; those leading FFA, 4-H or robotics clubs; club leaders; or anyone with an interest in science, technology and robotics.”
One interactive display will allow visitors to bring their own VEX robot or use one available on site to compete in a skills challenge to complete a simulated agricultural task. Visitors will also be able to explore the ACRE grounds and tour the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center.
Free parking is available, and food will be available for purchase from a variety of vendors. The NextGen Expo is free and open to anyone by completing an online registration.
Also open to the public is the May 17 and 18 agBOT Challenge, an international competition in which teams from universities, high schools and industries vie to create the best autonomous robots capable of performing agricultural tasks. On May 17, teams will showcase crop-management robots that are can navigate rows of corn, identify plants, deliver fertilizer, eradicate weeds and provide real-time observation. On May 18, the teams’ robots will gather soil samples and ready them for diagnostic evaluation.
Both days of competition begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day. This year Virginia Tech, Colorado School of Mines, the University of Manitoba, Michigan State University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Purdue Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Indiana State University, and entrepreneurs from South Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Egypt and Canada will compete.
The agBOT Challenge was founded in 2015 by Steve Gerrish, owner of Gerrish Farms in Rockville, Indiana, and his daughter Rachel, to raise awareness of the need for high-speed broadband in rural areas and encourage cross-collaborative research and development of new technologies for agriculture. Previous competitions took place at Gerrish Farms, and this marks the first year for the event at Purdue.
“We are really looking forward to being at Purdue,” Rachel Gerrish said. “One of our objectives has always been to show how cross-disciplinary research drives innovation, and ACRE provides a perfect backdrop to underscore that message.”