This paper presents high precision control and deep learning-based corn stand counting algorithms for a low-cost, ultra-compact 3D printed and autonomous field robot for agricultural operations. Currently, plant traits, such as emergence rate, biomass, vigor, and stand counting, are measured manually. This is highly labor-intensive and prone to errors. The robot, termed TerraSentia, is designed to automate the measurement of plant traits for efficient phenotyping as an alternative to manual measurements. In this paper, we formulate a Nonlinear Moving Horizon Estimator that identifies key terrain parameters using onboard robot sensors and a learning-based Nonlinear Model Predictive Control that ensures high precision path tracking in the presence of unknown wheel-terrain interaction. Moreover, we develop a machine vision algorithm designed to enable an ultra-compact ground robot to count corn stands by driving through the fields autonomously. The algorithm leverages a deep network to detect corn plants in images, and a visual tracking model to re-identify detected objects at different time steps. We collected data from 53 corn plots in various fields for corn plants around 14 days after emergence (stage V3 - V4). The robot predictions have agreed well with the ground truth with Crobot= 1.02 × Chuman- 0.86 and a correlation coefficient R= 0.96. The mean relative error given by the algorithm is - 3.78 % , and the standard deviation is 6.76 %. These results indicate a first and significant step towards autonomous robot-based real-time phenotyping using low-cost, ultra-compact ground robots for corn and potentially other crops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1289-1302
Number of pages14
JournalAutonomous Robots
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Agricultural robotics
  • Corn stand counting
  • Deep learning
  • Field robot
  • High precision control
  • Machine learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence


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