Sierra Young:
Manipulating UAVs for controlled pollinations in the forestry industry (Invited Talk)


Dr. Sierra Young is an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Utah State University. Broadly speaking, her research focuses on the development of field robotics, automation, and sensing systems for environmental and agricultural applications, and human-robot interaction for small unoccupied aerial systems (UAS). Dr. Young was awarded the New Faces of ASABE Top Honoree in 2020 and was recently invited to participate in the 2021 National Academy of Engineering US Frontiers of Engineering (FOE) Symposium for her work on robotics and precision agriculture. Before joining Utah State, she was an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at North Carolina State University, and previously worked as a Visiting Scholar in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department at Iowa State University. Dr. Young received her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering as a Department of Defense NDSEG Fellow with a focus on the human-robot interaction for physical object manipulation by small UAS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018.

Presentation Abstract

Loblolly pine is an economically important timber species with almost 1 billion seedlings produced annually in the US. Thousands of acres of established pine seed orchards produce improved seeds from new generations of forest trees. Each orchard must produce seeds efficiently to economically meet the demand for these seeds. To produce controlled crosses in seed orchards, female strobili are covered with paper or polymer exclusion bags and pollen is manually introduced into the bags using an injector. This process is labor-intensive, and heavy aerial work platforms used in the seed orchard leads to soil compaction. Since loblolly pine trees can reach heights greater than 30m, we proposed to use small aerial robots with partial or complete autonomous operation to automate the pollen injection process. While initially limited to controlled environments, manipulation tasks using aerial robots have been extended to the unstructured environment of a forest canopy for tasks such as sampling. We expand on this progress to enable pollen injection into exclusion bags using UAVs. This project incorporates mechanical design of a pollinating device mounted on a UAV, as well as the design of a perception and control system for the aerial pollinator. The solution is cheaper, safer, and avoids the problem of soil compaction compared to the current approach.