Washtenaw Community College is a logical meetup space for the Ann Arbor Autonomous Vehicle Group (A3VG), considering the tools, instruments and other resources available in the college’s lab space.

But it was something decidedly low-tech — the hoop house garden located on the eastern edge of campus — that was vital to the group’s winning strategy in the 2018 Autonomous Robot Challenge.

FarmaidBot creators (from left) Sohaib Arif, Juanito Co, David Walmroth and Alex Polonsky. | Photo courtesy of Neil Gudsen

For the competition, A3VG targeted the development of a machine learning platform to identify diseased vegetables in greenhouse and agricultural field settings. When the members of A3VG discovered that Washtenaw Technical Middle College operates a hoop house filled with lush tomato, melon and bean plants on campus, it became the center of the group’s efforts.

Over the course of four months and many hours in the hoop house, the group created FarmAidBot, a motorized system of sensors, cameras, computers and software that was trained to identify various types of molds, wilt, canker and powdery mildew on plants. It was awarded “Best Use of Artificial Intelligence” in the challenge.

Neil Gudsen, a program development manager for WCC’s Economic and Community Development Division, is the organizer of A3VG, which meets weekly in an electronics lab in the college’s Technical and Industrial Building.

“By hosting such groups, not only do we have a lot of fun, but I am often able to identify prospective trainers and put together ideas for exciting new professional development classes,” Gudsen said. “And such groups underscore WCC’s connection to the many communities we serve: businesses and individuals of various academic, technical, economic and professional backgrounds.”

The core group of contributors to the FarmAidBot project were Sohaib Arif, a computer science graduate student at Eastern Michigan University; Juanito Co, a mechanical engineer at Ford Motor Company; Alex Polonsky, an electronic systems engineer at Brose Group, and David Walmroth, an agri-tech entrepreneur and A3VG co-founder. Those four – collectively known as “Teamato” – are each members of A3VG and sibling organization, the Detroit Autonomous Vehicle Group.

Participation in the A3VG is open to the public and Gudsen says the group is “always delighted” to have WCC students join the meetings. The Group’s membership includes automotive and aeronautical engineers, software developers from Big 3 automakers, several grad students, serial entrepreneurs and others.

Projects being considered for 2019 include further development and refinement of the FarmAidBot, and creation of an automated navigation system for powered wheelchairs at the WCC campus.

Washtenaw Technical Middle College, an academy chartered by and located on the campus of WCC, uses the garden to supplement classes ranging from biology to entrepreneurship.