Autonomous and Intelligent Robots in Unstructured Field Environments

Dr. Girish Chowdhary, UIUC, Co-Founder EarthSense Inc.


Abstract: What if a team of collaborative autonomous robots grew your food for you? In this talk, I will demonstrate some key theoretical and algorithm advances in adaptive control, reinforcement learning, collaborative autonomy, and robot-based analytics my group is working to bring this future a lot nearer! I will discuss my group’s theoretical and practical work towards the challenges in making autonomous, persistent, and collaborative field robotics a reality. I will discuss new algorithms that are laying the foundation for robust long-duration autonomy in harsh, changing, and uncertain environments, including deep learning for robot embedded vision, deep adversarial reinforcement learning for large state-action spaces, and transfer learning for deep reinforcement learning domains. I will also describe the new breed of lightweight, compact, and highly autonomous field robots that my group is creating and deploying in fields across the US. I will show several videos of the TerraSentia robot, which is being widely hailed as opening the doors to an exciting revolution in agricultural robotics by popular media, including Chicago Tribune, the MIT Technology Review, Discovery Canada and leading technology blogs. I will also discuss several technological and socio-economic challenges of making autonomous field-robotic applications with small robots a reality, including opportunities in high-throughput phenotyping, mechanical weeding, and robots for defense applications.

Speaker Bio: Girish Chowdhary is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the director of the Distributed Autonomous Systems laboratory at UIUC. 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’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department (2013-2016). He also worked with the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR’s) Institute of Flight Systems for around three years (2003-2006). Girish’s ongoing research interest is in theoretical insights and practical algorithms for adaptive autonomy, with a particular focus on field-robotics. He has authored over 90 peer reviewed publications in various areas of adaptive control, robotics, and autonomy. On the practical side, Girish has led the development and flight-testing of over 10 research UAS platform. UAS autopilots based on Girish’s work have been designed and flight-tested on six UASs, including by independent international institutions. Girish is an investigator on NSF, AFOSR, NASA, ARPA-E, and DOE grants. He is the winner of the Air Force Young Investigator Award, and the Aerospace Guidance and Controls Systems Committee Dave Ward Memorial award. He is the co-founder of EarthSense Inc., working to make ultralight agricultural robotics a reality.