UACES Facebook Researchers receive NSF funding to continue building a smarter insect trap
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Researchers receive NSF funding to continue building a smarter insect trap

Oct. 31, 2023

By Hardin Young
Assistant Director of Research Communications
University Relations, University of Arkansas

 Fast facts:

  • Smart insect trap development continues with nearly $1M NSF SBIR grant
  • Division of Ag researcher and entomologist Ashley Dowling helping develop the system
  • System uses AI to automatically identify trapped insect species, estimate pest threat

(571 words)

Download photo of Dowling and Luu.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — University of Arkansas System researchers have received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program to continue development of a smart insect control system.

Two men crouch down in front of a computer monitor placed in an agricultural field.
SMARTER — Division of Agriculture professor of entomology Ashley Dowling, right, and Khoa Luu, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, test out the AI-powered smart insect trap, developed in collaboration with ag-tech company SolaRid AR. (Photo courtesy of University Relations, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville)

SolaRid AR, an Arkansas-based ag-tech company, is the primary recipient of the $981,168 grant, with roughly $340,000 of this award going to researchers who are incorporating a camera — powered by artificial intelligence — into SolaRid’s existing insect trap system to identify and count a range of insects.

Ashley Dowling, professor of entomology for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, and Khoa Luu, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering at the University of Arkansas, are leading the development of the smarter insect trap. The experiment station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The system is designed to simplify monitoring of plant growth stages and pest populations by processing the appropriate data in real time through a central dashboard that can be accessed with a mobile app. The goal of the project is for growers to be able to find out which pests, and in what concentrations, are in their fields during the different stages of plant growth through a season. This information would allow for early and accurate identification of pests, and for timely responses to reduce inputs and crop loss.

Ongoing work has focused on building the database of insects the system needs to recognize and improving the reliability of detection within a species. To assist with this the team will work with the University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health to add EDDMapS, which is the largest invasive species and pest database in North America. They will also integrate the center’s digital applications to create a robust framework for disseminating information to site managers, municipalities, organizations and the public.

The goal is to miniaturize and weatherize the system so that it can be easily deployed to run off the solar cells that currently power SolaRid’s insect traps. 

This next phase of the work will shift to California crops, where the team will partner with industry experts at the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. The team will train AI algorithms to identify fall armyworms, which eat rice, and navel orangeworms, a major threat to almonds, though they also menace pistachio, fig and pomegranate production as well. 

Randy J. Sasaki, managing partner of SolaRid AR, noted that both the company and the scientists were extremely proud of the work that led to the latest round of NSF funding. “It is a significant milestone after five years of development,” he said. “It is also an endorsement by authorities that the AI technology has been developed and of the importance of commercializing the technology that is intended to make America more competitive.” 

Dowling said, “It’s exciting to know we have the funding to take the next step toward producing a marketable, field-ready unit and that a few years from now our invention could be in fields across the U.S. helping farmers monitor and protect their crops.”

Producing a compact, weather secure and affordable smart trap for use across a range of cropping systems anywhere in the world is the final goal of this project.

Dowling and Luu’s work with SolaRid was previously highlighted in the University of Arkansas’ ongoing Short Takes video series.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.

Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

About the University of Arkansas

As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research and Economic Development News.

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