A research project focussing on grass growth prediction in smart agriculture and explainable artificial intelligence (AI) has taken a top award at the 2021 Artificial Intelligence Awards.

VistaMilk PhD student, Eoin Kenny, was announced winner of the Best Application of Artificial Intelligence in a Student Project.

This award celebrates the most innovative artificial intelligence research done by students in Ireland.

Eoin, who is a PhD student at University College Dublin (UCD) and is working with VistaMilk, has undertaken research that has led to significant breakthroughs in predictive AI modelling, explainable AI, and precision agriculture.

In 2019, he also won an international research award in Germany for early work in this area at a key AI conference.

Eoin’s PhD is looking at the prediction of grass growth in smart agriculture and explainable AI, while his earlier research in this field looked at using machine learning for grass growth predictions, and attracted significant international attention.

The collaboration with Teagasc led to a new combined model that harnesses the best of both modelling approaches. This combined work resulted in a meta-model that determines when it is best to use the AI model or the more traditional mechanistic model under different environmental conditions.

Another strand of the work looked at how best to explain model predictions to end-users – farmers.

Eoin explained: “A very popular and longstanding way to explain AI systems is to give people examples.

“Our research introduces a state-of-the-art method to do this in the latest AI systems. In particular, we can display these types of explanations for AI systems which use images, text, or more traditional tabular data in their decision-making process.”

Prof. Laurence Shalloo, deputy director of Vistamilk said:

“Through the combination of traditional techniques and models with the new AI based techniques, it is possible to increase accuracy of predictions. This will help farmers to make more informed decisions within their day to day businesses.”