Data and Technology

logo of a laptop with data bars on itOur researchers are on the forefront of technology and data science, harnessing the power of big data, supercomputers, and machine learning to advance decision-making in agriculture, robotics, health, conservation, and more.

These impacts are made possible through public and private investments, legislator support, multi-institutional partnerships, and the dedication of faculty and student scholars. 

Below, we showcase a fraction of our world-class research in the area of data and technology. You can view and download a pdf version and also subscribe to one of our ACES e-newsletters to stay abreast of new developments in ACES research. 

Autonomous farming with AIFARMS

Schematic of a farmer holding a tablet and viewing a pig

The Artificial Intelligence for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management, and Sustainability (AIFARMS) institute within the Center for Digital Agriculture brings together dozens of world-class researchers to accelerate AI and address major agricultural challenges such as labor constraints, animal health and welfare, environmental crop resilience, and soil health. AIFARMS is developing a prototype autonomous farm, anticipating a world in which low-cost AI-driven systems enable breeders and farmers to achieve large improvements in yields and profitability with minimal or even positive environmental impacts. The institute combines deep research expertise with strong education and outreach programs in digital agriculture to grow a diverse workforce with AI skills, reach rural and other underserved populations, and create a global clearinghouse to foster community-wide collaboration in AI-driven agricultural research.        

Illinois researchers

Vikram Adve, Computer Science
Elizabeth Ainsworth, Crop Sciences, Plant Biology, USDA-ARS
Girish Chowdhary, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Matt Hudson, Crop Sciences
Madhu Khanna, ACE
Alex Schwing, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Jessica Wedow, Plant Biology

Funding: $20 million from the National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes, a joint venture between NSF and USDA NIFA.

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Center for Digital Agriculture at Illinois receives $20M to develop new AIFARMS institute

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Farm of the Future

Hand holding smartphone with farm in the distance

Illinois researchers will establish the I-FARM (Illinois - Farming and Regenerative Management) to explore and develop cutting-edge management technologies. The 80-acre test farm of corn, soybean, and livestock will feature an integrated suite of digital technologies, including improved precision farming; under-canopy autonomous robots for planting, weeding, and spraying; and artificial intelligence-enabled remote sensing for animal health prediction, nutrient quantification, and soil health. A control area farmed with conventional methods will serve as comparison for profitability, productivity, and environmental outcomes. Illinois Extension will share results with farmers through demonstrations, trainings, and farm visits. Researchers will also introduce the MyFarm app, which will provide an integrated, customizable dashboard for farm management.

Illinois researchers

Girish Chowdhary, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Madhu Khanna, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
Kaiyu Guan, Natural Resouces and Environmental Sciences
Isabella Condotta, Animal Sciences
Shadi Atallah, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
Hamze Dokoohaki, Crop Sciences
Salah Issa, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Andrew Margenot, Crop Sciences
DoKyoung Lee, Crop Sciences


The three-year project, established in partnership with the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), received $3.9 million in funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Related news story

$3.9M USDA NIFA grant funds ‘Farm of the Future’

Talking and listening to crops for responsive food production

Cartoon of farmer talking to corn, which is talking back

To sustainably feed our growing global population, crops must become more productive, efficient, and responsive to environmental cues. A new NSF Science and Technology Center, known as the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS), is developing tools to listen and talk to plants and their associated organisms. Relying heavily on cutting-edge sensors, autonomous devices, nanotechnology, and an internet of living things, the center will enable plants and microbes to make real-time adjustments to environmental challenges. The center also fosters innovation in STEM education programs at all levels, ensuring a digital-ready workforce for tomorrow's agricultural landscape.

Illinois researchers

Stephen Moose, Crop Sciences
Vikram Adve, Computer Science
Cabral Bigman-Galimore, Communication
Germán Bollero, ACES/Crop Sciences
Romit Roy Choudhury, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Girish Chowdhary, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Matt Hudson, Crop Sciences
Meagan Lang, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Amy Marshall-Colon, Plant Biology
Anthony Studer, Crop Sciences
Lav Varshney, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Funding: $25 million from the National Science Foundation

Related news stories

$25M tech grant lets Illinois researchers ‘talk’ to plants

Is the future of agriculture digital?

Building smart, connected nutrient management communities

Hand holding tablet showing soil nitrogen values, with farm, windmills, and satellite in background

In an effort to maximize crop yield while also navigating uncertainties in soil nutrient cycling, many farmers apply nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers in excess of crop requirements. The practice is costly for farmers and the environment, leading to compromised water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Yet farmers' perceptions of nutrient management challenges vary widely, as does their ability to adopt novel approaches. A project led by ACES and Illinois Extension experts, in partnership with the Illinois Farm Bureau, leverages social science tools, soil sensors, and satellite observations to build a smart and connected nutrient management community. The approach aims to produce a community-based cyberinfrastructure to assist farmers in making more informed nutrient fertilizer application decisions.   

Illinois researchers

Andrew Margenot, Crop Sciences
Kaiyu Guan, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
McKenzie Johnson, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Funding: $2 million from the National Science Foundation