US: NIFA announces $3 million in funding for robotics research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced $3 million in available funding for robotics research, application, and education for agricultural systems that benefit consumers and rural communities. This funding is made available through the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), a federal research partnership that includes NIFA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Defense, and Department of Energy.
 
“These technologies are helping meet farm labor needs and making farming safer, more efficient, and more profitable,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “With each year of investment in agricultural robotic research, we learn more about how humans can benefit from automation in the field.”

The goal of the NRI program is to speed the development and use of robots that work alongside or cooperatively with people in agriculture. This latest funding opportunity supports research on the scalability and variety of collaborative human-robot (co-robot) interactions. Areas of focus include collaborative robots/humans teams, robots that can be easily customized, and infrastructure that lowers barriers to entry into the field of co-robots. Additionally, the program encourages research to introduce robotics in educational curricula and research to better understand the long-term social, behavioral, and economic implications of co-robots across all areas of human activity.
 
NIFA encourages robotics research, applications, and education to enhance agricultural production, processing, and distribution systems that benefit consumers and rural communities. Research proposals should address USDA goals, such as protecting agricultural health to ensure access to safe, plentiful, and nutritious food; increasing agricultural opportunities by supporting a competitive agricultural system; contributing to clean and abundant water by protecting and enhancing water resources; and ensuring that U.S. agricultural resources contribute to global food security.

NIFA will consider projects comprising one or more investigators, budgets of approximately $150,000 to $300,000 per year in total costs, and durations of two to five years. Eligible applicants include state agricultural experiment stations; colleges and universities; other research institutions; federal agencies; corporations; and individuals who are U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents. Foreign and international organizations are not eligible.

The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2017. See the request for applications for more detail.

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