The North Carolina State University department known as Biological and Agricultural Engineering has its roots in agricultural engineering. Its early development is largely credited to David S. Weaver who served as the first department head from 1940 to 1948.
A visionary for his time, then-United Nations President Frank B. Graham’s Need for the Department of Agricultural Engineering by illustrating the plight of farmworkers through Jean-François Millet’s 19th-century painting man with shovel Edwin Markman’s 1899 poem The man with the hoe.
Bend because of the weight of the horns
On his hoe and his gaze on the ground,
The emptiness of the ages in his face,
On his back is the burden of the world.
Markman was inspired by Millett’s painting, which was and still is considered a symbol of the working class expressed in the hard work of an unidentified farmer.
The department has witnessed major developments throughout its history, but its core mission has remained the same – Sustainable engineering solutions for agricultural, biological and natural systems to benefit all of humanity.
Welcome to our new faculty member
Assistant Professor Lirong Xiang he is The newest faculty member at BAE specializes in robotics, sensors and control systems. She received her B.Sc. in Biosystems Engineering from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou China, and most recently her Ph.D. in Agronomy and Biosystems Engineering from Iowa State University (ISU).
In her post-secondary education, Chiang has published numerous articles, received numerous awards, including the ISU Research Excellence Award and the Reverend PT Taiganides Award for Distinguished Doctorate, and has helped secure more than $9 million in grants.
This position is Chiang’s first appointment to the faculty.
“We are very fortunate and very excited to have Dr. Lirong Xiang join the faculty in our department. Her passion and drive for the latest research, education and awareness in robotics and sensors is unparalleled,” says BAE Professor and Head of Department Gary Fox. “She will continue to assist our department in addressing major global challenges in engineering and agriculture.”
Before taking up her current position, Chiang was a student who, like the one at North Carolina State, was exploring topics that combined her engineering abilities with a passion for problem-solving.
As an undergraduate student, she chose to involve herself in various research projects in order to gain a broader understanding of the agricultural discipline and learn more about those areas in engineering. For the first design project, I developed algorithms to reconstruct 3D models and measure morphological features of lettuce plants using the Microsoft Kinect 3D camera. I also participated in the Zhejiang University Undergraduate Robotics Competition for a chance to attend American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ASABE) Student Robotics Competition during its Annual International Meeting (AIM).
Xiang’s first two attempts in the robotics competition at Zhejiang University were unsuccessful, but by year three, she had placed first and would go on to lead a championship team in the ASABE Student Robotics Competition in Orlando, Florida.
“The failure of the first two competitions caused me not only frustration, but more experience and lessons,” she recalls.
In 2017, she began her doctoral studies at ISU where she developed automated and automated systems for phenotypic applications of indoor and field plants. These systems included a dedicated camera with adjustable synchronous baseline and a powerful lighting system to improve data collection, a purposefully designed skill-lever robotic system for water management and plant growth monitoring and specialized software used to analyze image data using deep neural networks. “Every ingredient is very important,” she explains. ‘The main idea is to reduce the labor cost of [plant phenotyping] Research.”
She successfully defended her thesis Prototyping high-throughput robotic plants using 3D machine vision and deep neural networks earlier this year.
Building BAE . robots
Xiang’s continuing research interests to develop Intelligent electronic physical systems that integrate advanced robotics, machine vision, and machine learning technologies to automate labor-intensive tasks in agricultural systems. This includes global initiatives that address agricultural challenges to meet food supply requirements such as United nations The world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050.
“We will need researchers from different disciplines including agronomy, electrical engineering, computer science, computer engineering, and we also need the biological aspect like plant scientists in genetics and agronomy,” she says. “When we bring these experiences together, we can achieve larger goals such as finding future crop varieties and improving crop yields.”
Her future research prospects include developing an automated system that automatically grows sweet potatoes in a feeder, which could be a major economic advantage for producers of one of North Carolina’s largest agricultural commodities. She is also passionate about applying automation technology to precision livestock farming.
Chiang began her appointment to BAE in August. She is the principal investigator in the Automation and Robotics Lab, teaches a course on sensors and controls and has plans to lead the department’s first robotics team.
“The ASABE Robotics Competition provides students with hands-on experience in robotic systems, electronics, and sensor technology,” she says.
“I hope more students will join us in designing fully autonomous robotic solutions for agricultural production processes.”
As part of the team, students will be eligible to compete in the ASABE Student Robotics Competition. The competition requires teams to build a robot that performs a simulated farming process before, before or after harvest. Robots must be fully autonomous and complete the task without human intervention.
Xiang has served as a judge for the ASABE Robotics Student Design Competition and Associate Editor for ASABE. “ASABE provides an opportunity to bring all researchers in this agricultural discipline together, present their research, and connect with each other,” she says. “It also provides a lot of opportunities for students to network and learn what others are doing in that major.”
Xiang’s growth mindset combined with her experience and knowledge is an invaluable resource for BAE students interested in entering this rapidly developing field of study.
Weaver wrote in 1931 of his observations: “Looking back a hundred years from 2031, what would the story be like?” In the history and development of agricultural machinery. Will the automatic harvesting of the cotton crop be mastered? Will the plane complete the car? Will the TV help the phone? Will there be electricity in every country house? I think so.”
Looking to 2022, what will the story be? Will the farms be fully digital and autonomous? Will robots assist in all agricultural operations including harvesting crops and monitoring livestock behaviour? Will there be enough food to feed the world’s population consistently all year round? One thing is for sure, BAE aims to make the necessary contributions to help producers achieve all this and much more.
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