BEACON Director Erik Goodman just returned from a 13-day trip to China, where he met with BEACON-collaborating teams in Shanghai’s Tongji University and at Shantou University in Guangdong Province. In Shanghai, the Tongji researchers also met with MSU Horticulture Prof. Erik Runkle and BEACON ECE graduate student José Llera. The MSU team is working with Prof. Lihong Xu and his students, postdocs and technicians on developing greenhouse control systems based on multi-objective evolutionary computation.
The goal is to develop control strategies that can maximize crop yield while minimizing energy expenditure. Unlike typical greenhouse controllers that fix daytime temperatures at an “ideal” set-point and nighttime temperatures at another set-point, the new controller would base the temperature to be maintained at any time on a model of the crop’s environmental response and on the external weather conditions, allowing energy to be traded off against production depending on weather conditions. China is constructing many new high-tech greenhouses that could be controlled by such technology, including the Dushi Green greenhouse on Chongming Island (near Shanghai, see pictures below) that is about 340,00 sq. ft. and uses the latest in Dutch greenhouse technology, including heat pumps, intra-canopy LED lighting, automatic movement of crop beds, several types of screens, and other devices. While in Shanghai, Prof. Runkle also gave a talk for the Shanghai Society of Agricultural Engineers dealing with supplemental greenhouse lighting technology. The Tongji and MSU members of the research team shared ideas on ways to simplify the model of the greenhouse microclimate and crop growth, as the more traditional models require too much computational time to be used realistically in evolution of a controller. Once back at MSU, the team will continue to work with Prof. Xu’s student, Leilei Cao, who is a visiting scholar in BEACON for two years.
After the Shanghai visit, Goodman went on to Shantou, China, where he collaborates with Prof. Zhun Fan of Shantou University. They have collaborated for many years on the use of genetic programming for mechatronic design, and now are working in the more general field of evolutionary robotics. Prof. Fan has an excellent laboratory with many students designing robots, including one for potential application in greenhouses such as the ones being designed by Prof. Xu. He uses multi-objective evolutionary design to optimize robot design and robot trajectories. Fan’s and Goodman’s collaborators include Prof. Han Huang, South China University of Technology, Xinye Cai, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Hailin Liu, Guangdong University of Technology. This team is seeking funding for a new State Key Laboratory to be located at Shantou University, promoting further collaborative research on robotics, multi-objective evolutionary optimization, and medical image processing. Prof. Liu just returned from BEACON to Guangzhou, but plans to return to continue his work at BEACON in 2016.
Returning to Shanghai, Prof. Goodman then went with his long-term collaborator Prof. Meng Yao, of East China Normal University, to visit cities in Chongming Island and just north of the Yangzi River, nearby Yuelai, in Jiangsu Province. Leaders in both locales are eager to host development of R&D activities, offering proximity to Shanghai, but with much more favorable conditions in terms of population density and environment. A future research facility for Prof. Yao’s work may be located on Chongming Island.