Contact: Alaina Dismukes
STARKVILLE, Mississippi — A $ 500,000 federal grant is helping agricultural students in the state of Mississippi apply virtual reality technology to train for high-tech careers in environmental control.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Prize funds a cross-collaborative project between MSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering that will build virtual reality technology to train students in the use of electronic control software. Environmental control technology is used in advanced facilities such as greenhouses and similar buildings used for poultry and pigs.
“MSU has been teaching electronic control technology for some time, but since real-world facilities are only managed by selected authorized individuals, our students could not practice using it directly,” said Amelia Fox, Principal Investigator of the Grant and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
Daniel Carruth, MSU assistant research professor at Bagley College of Engineering and the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, is also working on the project.
“Our goal is to give students the opportunity to try out precision farming techniques and technologies in a safe and risk-free environment that should allow them to become familiar with what works and what does not, and with their ability to apply what they have learned. in the real world, ”Carruth said.
Shuchisnigdha Deb, assistant research professor at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, and Carla B. Jagger, assistant professor at the School of Human Sciences, are also on the team.
Fox explained that the project started with a real-life situation when a former student called from her new workplace.
“She had just started working in Illinois at a pigsty – which has environmental control technology similar to a greenhouse – and was having trouble using the computer controller,” Fox said.
She helped the former student over the phone but wanted to do more. This led Fox to the idea of expanded training through virtual reality. She requested support from Wadsworth Control Systems, which produces climate systems for greenhouses, and Chore-Time Brock Inc., owned by Berkshire Hathaway Company, which builds climate systems for poultry houses.
“In the real world, it’s not practical to give each student control of their own greenhouse,” Carruth said. “In virtual reality, we plan to give students not only control of their own greenhouse, but also allow them to speed up the time to discover how their choices and use of environmental controls affect crop growth, profits and even more.”
Fox drafted the grant proposal, which secured funding through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The NIFA grant is part of the organization’s Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools (FACT) initiative, which focuses on data science to enable systems and communities to effectively use data, d ” improve resource management and integrate new technologies and approaches to promote food and agricultural businesses.
“It’s been almost three years since we had this idea, and we’re delighted to see it finally come to life. This is going to be very useful for the students, ”Fox said.
She said the new interactive learning method will benefit not only students, but the agriculture industry as a whole.
“If someone doesn’t know how to properly use the equipment, it could damage all the plants in a greenhouse. Imposing this risk on a learning student is unrealistic and unfair, but they still need to understand how to use this technology, ”Fox said.
Carruth said this project is just the start of applying virtual reality in education at MSU.
“We absolutely plan to look for other ways to use the models and software that we are developing in other agricultural education projects,” he said. “I think there are applications for virtual reality in many other aspects of agricultural education, distance education, outreach activities and more.”
For more information on the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, visit www.pss.msstate.edu. To learn more about Bagley College of Engineering, visit www.bagley.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s premier university, available online at www.msstate.edu.