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These facilities will provide a powerful foundation for the data-driven experiences AI research for this Institute.

Piglet Nutrition and Cognition Laboratory

Dr. Ryan Dilger’s laboratory location at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign serves as dedicated research space for controlled rearing of pigs starting at birth. This laboratory is ideally suited for development of AI algorithms for elucidating pigs behavior profiles. As such, 48 pigs can be individually reared through five weeks of age with continuous, joint video, and audio recording of activity (two cameras per pig) and a separate and complementary space for applying specific behavior paradigms such as memory, stress response, and welfare outcomes. Computer vision applications conducted in this facility will be used to develop automated behavioral assessment of individual young pigs, which will subsequently be further developed for groups and older pigs in other facilities. Development of AI solutions in this environment will then be applied to production-level farms.

Piglet Nutrition and Cognition Laboratory website

Illinois Swine Research Farm

Located adjacent to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, this facility will be utilized for development of AI algorithms for group of pigs at various states, as well as human activities in the barn.

Illinois Swine Research Farm website

University of Illinois Autonomous Farm

The Illinois Autonomous Farm unites researchers, industry leaders, educators, and stakeholders to drive research, education, and outreach for autonomous systems in agriculture across Illinois. Launched in 2020 as a joint effort between the Illinois Center for Digital Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), the Autonomous Farm is a shared testbed facility to advance artificial intelligence research for agriculture in four key areas:

  1. Under-canopy, high-throughput field phenotyping with compact robots and sensors.
  2. Under-canopy, commodity crop weeding and spraying robots and soil sensor networks.
  3. Urban food gardening with rail mounted and low-cost mobile robots.
  4. Plant manipulation in berry and nut orchards with low-cost mobile robots and soft manipulators.

This testbed will drive key research, education, and outreach activities designed to improve farmer productivity, sustainability, and profitability, as well as accelerate new opportunities in high-tech agriculture. Leveraging the testbed, the Autonomous Farm team will also assess issues involving the human impact of utilizing AI in agriculture, including safety, retraining, and job creation.

The pilot farm currently spans an area of approximately four acres located on the ABE farm site. This location will allow the autonomous farm to expand its acreage as future projects demand.

Autonomous Farm website


The SoyFACE (Soybean Free-Air Concentration Enrichment) experimental facility, which will be a key pillar to Thrust 3: Environmental Resilience. This facility is located on 80 acres of University of Illinois research farms, approximately 5 miles south of campus. The free air gas concentration enrichment (FACE) facility has the necessary infrastructure to fumigate crops with elevated concentration of CO2 and/or ozone in the field under fully open air conditions. This the only facility in the United States, and has collected over 20 years of data. The facility hosts a retractable roof greenhouse for drought experiments, where a large number of overhead RGB and video cameras are being installed in a collaborative AI + Agriculture project from high-throughput phenotyping. These facilities have the capacity for in-field warming experiences with infrared heating arrays. The core operations of the facility, technical support, and microclimate data collection at SoyFACE are supported by the USDA ARS.

Illinois-USDA-ARS SoyFACE website

TERRA-REF Phenotyping Gantry System

The TERRA-REF phenotyping gantry system is an integrated platform that leverages automation, imaging- and sensor-based phenotyping, genetics and breeding genomics, and computational analytics to accelerate the rate of generic gain in energy sorghum. TERRA-REF is a large-scale project that involves over 50 researchers from 14 institutions with the main phenotyping facility located in Maricopa, AZ.

TERRA-REF website

National Center for Supercomputing Applications

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides one of the most powerful and extensive supercomputing environments in the world, along with expert support and contracted projects that help thousands of scientists, engineers, and dozens of companies. Established in 1986 as one of the original sites of the National Science Foundation’s Supercomputer Center Program, NCSA is now becoming a major center of expertise in agriculture-related data analysis and machine learning services to both federal research projects and private industry. NCSA is one of the two primary data analysis centers for the DOE-funded TERRA-REF project, led by Co-PI Mockler.

NCSA website

Soil Nitrogen Supply Testing Site

The Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus maintains a four-acre testing site that will be a key facility for Thrust 3: Environmental Resilience and Thrust 4: Soil Health. The field is instrumented with a weather station planted with a GPS-guided plot planter, has campus wireless network access and employs multiple sensors to monitor soil moisture and nitrogen status. Since 2000, more than 6,000 trails have been conducted for nitrogen-responsive traits under current commercial production practices.