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ARS AI Innovation Fund (FY2022)

Overview

The goal of the ARS Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence (AI-COE) is to enable ARS science by promoting the adoption and use of AI and machine learning (ML) tools and methods in agricultural research. As part of the AI-COE, we expect to fund 4 to 6 proposals up to $100,000 each for activities to encourage and promote AI-related research in agriculture. For examples of successful proposal topics, please see the abstracts of the AI Innovation Fund proposals funded in FY2021.

Proposals must be submitted using the online submission form and are due by 5:00 PM PST on December 17, 2021. All submitted proposals must be approved by a relevant RL or supervisor. Funds will be available in early 2022 and will need to be spent or placed in collaborative agreements by August 1, 2022. We expect to fund additional proposals each of the subsequent years. For questions, contact Dr. Brian Stucky, AI Computational Biologist in the SCINet Office, or Dr. Debra Peters, ARS Chief Science Information Officer.

Proposal guidelines

Scope

Projects of high priority for funding are those that:

  1. Develop or adapt an AI/ML method that empowers ARS scientists to answer a specific question/problem or test a hypothesis of agricultural importance.
  2. Develop or adapt AI/ML technologies to create a prototype digital product that solves a need for producers or agricultural researchers.

Proposals should be primarily focused on developing, adapting, or applying methods that fall into the category of AI or ML (see definitions below). Please refer to the abstracts of the proposals funded in FY2021 for examples of successful proposal topics.

Researchers developing a method or digital product are encouraged to define a minimum viable product as a deliverable.

Successful projects should:

  1. Address real-world model concerns, such as data shift.
  2. Have AI/ML development or modification as a primary focus.
  3. Demonstrate that the project has a high probability of completion with impacts on an agricultural research question/problem.
  4. Utilize SCINet computing resources, including the high-performance computing (HPC) clusters, Ceres or Atlas. These HPC systems are equipped with standard CPU nodes, graphical processing units (GPUs), and high-memory nodes. These systems support containerized workflows, if needed for the problem being addressed.

Topics that will not be considered for funding

Training, workshop, and working group activities are not supported by this call. Please see the SCINet web site for ways to get involved in these activities or contact the Chief Science Information Officer, Debra Peters, with questions (ARS–CSIO@usda.gov).

Project Funding

We expect to fund 4 to 5 proposals up to $100,000 each. Funds must be spent in fiscal year 2022 (before 8/1/2022) which may require an agreement with a university partner or the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).

Proposal format and submission

All proposals must be submitted using the online submission form. The PI’s RL or supervisor must approve the proposal prior to submission (approval will be indicated on the submission form). A complete proposal will include:

  • A proposal abstract of 300 words or less.
  • Proposal text (project description) of up to 2 pages in length that clearly lays out a specific challenge or question, proposes a method or tool to be developed or applied to solve the challenge or to answer the question, and demonstrates that the project team has the capability to complete the project. Deliverables for the project should be defined.
  • A detailed project budget provided as an Excel spreadsheet. Please use REE budget form 455.
  • A budget explanation of no more than 1 page.

The proposal text and budget justification should be submitted as PDF documents with margins of no less than 1 inch and font size of no less than 11. References are not included in the 2-page limit for the proposal text. Only one proposal as the lead investigator responsible for project completion can be submitted by a scientist, although a scientist can be a member of multiple proposals. We encourage teams of investigators collaborating on a problem.

Deadline for proposal submission: 5:00 PM PST on December 17, 2021

Eligibility: ARS Category 1, 4, or 6 scientists with RL or supervisor approval.

Submission form: All proposals must be submitted online at https://forms.office.com/g/99WpknFwLd.

Definition of AI/ML technologies

(These are examples and not inclusive of all possible methods and tools.)

AI methods involve automated decision-making or inference from data, and use methods in the subfields:

  • machine learning (including deep learning)
  • mathematical optimization (integer programming and operations research)
  • machine reasoning and logic programming (not normal computer programming)
  • knowledge representation
  • recommender systems

Machine learning involves training a model with data, and then making decisions or answering questions using that model. ML methods include:

  • tasks like classification, regression, dimensionality reduction, and clustering;
  • domain areas like natural language processing, computer vision, and time-series analyses;
  • statistical methods like gaussian processes, neural networks, Bayesian networks, and support vector machines.