Farms of the Future for Saudi Arabia: Lessons from the US Mid-West


In this talk I will lay out a vision for how advances in Digital Agriculture could enable prosperous and productive farming for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Taking the NIFA Farm of the Future at Illinois as a case study, I will lay out technologies that could enable economies of scale for productive agriculture in the desert. Our team has been at the forefront of leading technological innovation in agricultural robotics in the US MidWest. I will describe technologies such as under-canopy phenotyping, cover-crop planting with robotics for regenerating farm land, plant manipulation with soft robots and advances in autonomy for under-water and field robotics. Underlying these are key advances to AI for robotics, including learning based visual navigation, self-supervised learning, and adaptive control.

I strongly believe that the kingdom has the opportunity to lead in the AgTech space by driving innovations in connected agricultural robotics, AI and ML for ultra-precise agriculture, water harvesting and reuse, automated vertical farming, and automated under-water farming. Not only will these technologies lead to a sustainable ag-tech ecosystem in the varied and challenging landscapes of the desert, but also pave the way to sustainable agricultural intensification around the world as the global population continues to rise.


Girish Chowdhary is an associate professor and Donald Biggar Willet Faculty Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the director of the Field Robotics Engineering and Science Hub (FRESH) at UIUC and the Director of the USDA/NIFA Farm of the Future. Girish holds a joint appointment with Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science, he is a member of the UIUC Coordinated Science Lab, and holds affiliate appointments in Aerospace Engineering and Electrical Engineering. He holds a PhD (2010) from Georgia Institute of Technology in Aerospace Engineering. He was a postdoc at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011-2013), and an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University (2013-2016). He also worked with the German Aerospace Center's (DLR's) Institute of Flight Systems for around three years (2003-2006). He is the winner of the Air Force Young Investigator Award, and several best paper awards, including a best systems paper award at RSS 2018 for his recent work on the agricultural robot TerraSentia. He is the co-founder of EarthSense Inc., a company that has deployed over 150 agricultural robots for phenotyping, cover-cropping, and other agricultural management.