About me - Hi I’m Alex, I am originally from Wales. Before joining the CDT I spent 4 years studying in Bristol, at the University of the West of England, completing my BEng in Robotics. I applied for the CDT program which includes a year in Lincoln to complete my Masters which will start this October. I’m extremely passionate to be able to further my academic journey with this program as well as start my professional career. I am looking forward to starting this program as it will allow me to refine my skills while allowing me to focus on the area of agri-food robotics that I find most interesting.
Research interests - Soft robotics, robot-human interaction and collaboration, virtual and augmented reality, autonomous vehicles.
About me - My name is Bethan and I am excited to be joining the CDT in 2021. I come from Surrey and I’m looking forward to moving to Lincoln to explore a new part of the UK. I spend most of my spare time playing hockey, but I also love cooking and hiking.
Before joining the CDT, I was studying manufacturing engineering at the University of Cambridge, where I will be returning to complete my PhD. I chose to join the CDT to equip myself with the skills needed to address the challenges facing the food chain, such as population growth and climate change, and I would like to have a career that improves the social and environmental impacts associated with food production.
Research interests - Food manufacturing, strategic technology management, industrial sustainability.
About me - My name is Emlyn and I’m from Anglesey in North Wales, before joining the CDT I was studying mechanical engineering at the University of Leeds. In my spare time I enjoy sailing, pub quizzes, playing guitar and watching films.
I’m excited to join the CDT and to learn more about robotics and artificial intelligence before choosing my project. I chose the CDT because I think that increasing autonomy in agriculture is an important step in increasing food security. Coming from an area where most of the land is used for agriculture, I am interested in learning how that land could be used more efficiently.
Research interests - Computer vision, machine learning, autonomous vehicles.
About me - Prior to joining the CDT, I had spent over two decades in the heavy manufacturing industry working in a variety of roles. My career started through a vocational route with a focus on production engineering. I then transitioned across to manufacturing and mechanical engineering which involved developing and implementing new processes for automation. Seeing the changes that have taken place over this time with the deployment of robotics has been fascinating.
I decided to explore this field further and changed career trajectory and recently graduated with a degree in Computer Science from the University of Lincoln. I am especially excited about exploring robotics and autonomous systems in the unstructured and complex environment that agriculture presents. This is a challenging domain and I really look forward to positively contributing to it.
I will be completing my PhD research at the University of Cambridge, and I am excited to join the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) in the Industrial Resilience Research Group (IRRG).
Research interests - Digital supply chains, manipulation and soft robotics, sensing and perception.
About me - I am looking forward to being a part of the CDT to bring together my interests in research, engineering, and agriculture. Having experienced hands-on farming, I am excited to develop new innovations for the agricultural industry and make a difference to the future of farming.
Before joining the CDT I studied an MEng in Systems Engineering at the University of Warwick. I especially enjoyed the research and project work, including my final year project to develop an autonomous drone for campus parcel deliveries. I covered elements of robotics, computer vision, and machine learning and am eager to explore these further during the programme. This last year I have worked alongside my uncle on his dairy farm in Dorset and have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of all aspects of a working farm.
I am from Herefordshire, and in my spare time I enjoy designing and making projects of all scales and complexity, working as a stage technician, and walking in the mountains.
Research interests - Modelling, digital twin, computer vision, perception & decision making, mechatronics.
About me - I am from Hampshire but did my undergraduate degree in robotics at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
In my spare time I DJ and produce music and have played in clubs and had my music made onto limited edition vinyl.
I am very excited to be studying my PhD at the University of East Anglia and look forward to using my skills as an industrial researcher or even start my own business in the future. Before joining the CDT I was working for the Cyber Human Labs at the University of Cambridge.
Fun fact I have two different coloured eyes if you look closely.
Research interests - Machine vision and neural networks.
About me - My name is Kyle, and I am excited to be joining the AgriFoRwArdS CDT community in October 2021. Before joining the CDT, I studied for an integrated master’s degree in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Manchester, concentrating on the areas of scientific computing, uncertainty quantification, and statistical physics. While in Manchester I also had the opportunity to undertake a research project on Bragg-edge neutron strain imaging, where I used data collected at the IMAT instrument at ISIS, UK, to map the residual strain within a strained material. I am looking forward to applying the knowledge and skills I gained in Manchester to the difficult challenges that present themselves in agri-food robotics.
I was born in Lincoln and grew up in a small town not too far away, and I am very much looking forward to being back in this beautiful, quaint, city. After I complete my studies in Lincoln, I will be moving to study my PhD at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Computer Science and Technology under the supervision of Dr Cengiz Öztireli.
Away from academia, I like to stay active, going to the gym and running. I also really enjoy travelling, both exploring new cities around the U.K, with York being one of my recent favourites, and exploring the hills and valleys when hiking.
Research interests - Broadly, my interests in agri-food robotics lay in the development of long-term autonomy for robotics; more specifically, my interests span both the theoretical development and practical application of computer vision, computer graphics, and machine learning techniques.
About me - Nikolas received the B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Physics and Artificial Intelligence from the University of Patras and the University of Southampton, respectively. From 2020 to 2021, he was a Computer Vision engineer in SAGA Robotics, where he was involved in the FirstFleet, GRASPberry and other UKRI projects. His main research interests include vision guided fruit harvesting and vision based navigatetion in agricultural environments. By joining the CDT he will be able to contribute academically and produce high impact research in the agri-robotics sector.
Research interests - Vision guided robotic systems, crop detection.
About me - I was born in Germany and lived there for the major part of my life.
Since I was eight years old, I knew that I wanted to become a Computer Scientist. Therefore, there has only ever been a rather vague line between my career and my passions.
In the last four years, my time split between working at a human-aid organisation (Engineers without Borders, Germany), founding a startup to leverage potentials of autonomous systems in logistics, studying Computer Science at the TU Darmstadt, researching with University of Cambridge’s Cyber-Human Lab (CHL) on immersive technologies and dancing salsa with friends.
In every step of this way, I tried to work towards a fair, more sustainable world, and I’m glad to be part of a cohort with the same ambitions.
I founded a startup to make the capabilities of the fourth industrial revolution accessible to a broader range of people. And now I’m joining AgriFoRwArdS to make my contribution towards the fourth agricultural revolution.
I’m looking forward to ambitious projects with high impact, solving challenges with modern methods and joining our passionate cohort in a - for me - uncharted environment.
Subsequently, I’ll take the developed expertise to the CHL, where I’ll complement prior findings as part of my PhD.
Research interests - Autonomous systems, immersive technologies and human-robot collaboration.
About me - Before joining the CDT I was an electronics engineer working for Arm for over a decade. I led some big teams building Neural Network Processing Units and I’ve come back to academia to explore how ML technology can be applied in agriculture. There’s a crunch coming up in the next couple of decades between population, climate change and biodiversity and I believe improving agricultural efficiency is a big part of how we can get through that. I’ve also had various placements and consultancy roles including keeping BBC Alba on air in Glasgow, working for Hitachi in Japan, designing control electronics for a telecoms start up and developing a drug delivery device for arthritis patients. I’ll be studying my PhD in the Plant Sciences Department in Cambridge in cooperation with Defra. I also enjoy running, climbing and cooking.
Research interests - Machine vision for pest and weed control. Low cost / small scale agrorobotics for reducing soil compaction and allowing greater flexibility for farmers. Systems around robotic agriculture - what else could or would change as capabilities increase.
About me - My name is Samuel, aged 24 and am from Maidenhead. My background has been in mobile robotics. My MEng project involved 3D autonomous navigation and I have worked with mobile robots as an intern at Fox Robotics Ltd and Ross Robotics Limited. I believe that software is the core of robotics.
I have chosen to join the AgriFoRwArdS CDT because I want to confront and overcome the demanding challenges of self sustainability. I was impressed by Lincoln University's world leading involvement in agri-robotics research and am looking forward to being on the frontline of the cutting edge technology.
One of the areas of research I’m particularly interested in is automated indoor growing. This has been inspired by projects such as the Eden Project. I think there is a future in developing and converting non farmland into biodomes which have the capacity to grow exoctic produce.
A fun fact about me is that I’ve had an 11 year career as a dancer doing tap and ballet. I’ve been an associate of the Royal Ballet School and performed in Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I hope to one day acquire my own farm which grows food using robots.
Research interests - Indoor farming, agricultural automation, mobile robotics.
About me - My name is Pat, and I am from Thailand. Before applying to the CDT, I have worked on a wide range of topics including superconductors, quantum computing and microfluidics. Eventually I became interested in artificial intelligence and have been working on this ever since. Currently, I am developing neuromorphic controllers for unmanned aerial vehicles, which will equip them with the ability to adapt to unforeseen conditions.
My goal is to help address the labour shortage associated with farming and alleviate the stress on the industry due to the growing population. I aim to do this by contributing to the research on controlled environment vertical farming and how machine learning, robotics and physics can be utilised to improve efficiency, minimise waste and reduce cost. I believe that a move in this direction is crucial if we are to make important energy-intensive crops economically feasible in vertical farms.
I will be studying my PhD at the University of Cambridge. I also did my undergraduate and master’s degree there and I miss it so much that I am going back again! I am looking forward to my time at the University of Lincoln and am super excited to meet everyone in the CDT community.
When I am free, I like working on fun side-projects such as creating AI-generated art and music visualisations. If you have any cool AI-related ideas and would like to work on something together, please get in touch! I am also a bit of a coffee fanatic, and I am looking forward to checking out every single café in Lincoln. I also play computer games and watch anime from time to time.
Research interests - Vertical farming, urban farming, controlled-environment farming, robotics and automation, computer vision, generalisation in neural networks.
About me - My name is Xumin Gao, I come from China. Before I studied and did research work at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Wuhan University of Science and Technology. My research was mainly focused on computer vision and robot perception. After graduating from university, at first I worked in an autonomous vehicle company, and I worked on the algorithm development of computer vision, including vehicle recognition, vehicle feature point extraction. Then I worked in an intelligent agricultural technology company. I was mainly responsible for image-based poisonous weed detection and segmentation for autonomous weeding robots and UAVs, as well as satellite imagery segmentation for farmland monitoring.
I am a robot lover. At present, I have made many robots, including dancing robots, indoor service robots, weeding robots and so on. If you want to see these lovely robots, you can visit this website. In my spare time, I especially like dancing (I can dance at least five different dances), hiking and exploring some natural life. Sometimes, I also like to record my life and feelings by writing.
The reason why I chose to join the AgriFoRwArdS CDT is that this project is especially close to my research area of interest. In addition, the work experience which I had before makes me realise that intelligent agricultural robots have a great potential development space at present. I will be studying my PhD at the University of Lincoln. I look forward to meeting other AgriFoRwArdS CDT members and working with them. At the same time, I believe I will have a good time in Lincoln.
Research interests - Computer vision, robot perception, and multi-sensor fusion.
AgriFoRwArdS Supervisor Dr Carolina Camacho Villa
Carolina Camacho Villa is a Senior Lecturer at Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT). She works on the social aspects of agri-food technologies, mainly in contributing of agricultural robotics technologies to the global agri-food challenges. Before joining the University of Lincoln, she studied various topics such as plant genetic resource and agrobiodiversity conservation, traditional farming systems and indigenous knowledge, and gender and social inclusion in agricultural interventions. Technology development and deployment for agriculture have been a central topic for more than a decade, as she participated in international development projects promoting technological innovations in agriculture. Her publications about this topic show the richness of approaches in which she has studied this topic.
Currently, she is responsible for bringing the social component of agri-food systems to the research and education activities of the LIAT. She studies agri-food technologies such as Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) from interdisciplinary perspective integrating social, ecological and technological considerations into RAS design-development-deployments. She is also engaged in exploring how RAS can contribute to environmental challenges such as Net Zero and social commitments brought with concepts such as responsible research and innovation. She is especially interested in shaping alternative and inclusive robotics technological futures using co-creation for the heterogeneity of farms, farming and farmers worldwide.
Introducing Jersey Farmers' Union
The Island of Jersey is a Crown Dependency, 45 square miles in size with a population of around 105,000. Just over half the land in the island is farmed and the two main export crops are potatoes and daffodils. The Island is home to 4000 Jersey cows which makes the Island self-sufficient in most milk and dairy products.
The Jersey Farmers' Union was formed in 1919 as a consequence of the last great pandemic, Spanish flu. The government of Jersey introduced a ban on the export of cattle to protect food security. 120 farmers descended on the capital St Helier, to fight this decision. They decided that the formation of a Union would give them the most chance of successfully overturning the decision.
Today the Union has around 100 members and is still fighting causes on behalf of its members. Since its inception, another important role has been the recruitment of labour. Up to the 1960's, it was predominantly French labour that worked on the Island farms but since then the Portuguese (mainly Madeirans) and more latterly Eastern Europeans, particularly the Polish, have provided a regular and skilful workforce.
Since the UK decision to leave the EU, it is clear that people from this area are reluctant to come and work for us. To combat this the Union has been recruiting from as far afield as The Philippines and Brazil. It is also worth noting that the price of labour in the Island is rising quickly as many other industries are also struggling for staff. This all comes at a time when grower returns from the market place are seeing little or no increase.
It is with this background, that the JFU approached Professor Simon Pearson at Lincoln University to see if it was possible to mechanise the planting of our Jersey Royal potatoes.
The Jersey Royal potato is the main export crop for our industry. Around 3000 hectares are grown each year and about 30,000 tonnes exported, mostly to the U.K. Jersey survives in the market by producing not only a great product, but also producing it early. This earliness is achieved by planting a lot of small, sheltered field which generally have a slope. Whilst some mechanisation has taken place on the later flat fields, over 50% of the crop is still planted by hand. It is obvious that the mechanisation of this part of our growing process will have a huge effect on productivity.
We hope that the collaboration between ourselves, Lincoln and Cambridge Universities will enable the students involved to gain first-hand knowledge in solving real industry problems and that those solutions will enable our growers to remain competitive.
Antobot - Welcome to a new AgriFoRwArdS Industry Partner
An Introduction to Antobot
Antobot is an award-winning start-up developing affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture. Through the combination of modular robotic platforms optimised for agriculture and our universal robot control unit (uRCU®), we are developing small autonomous robots that can perform various short cycle tasks.
Our first full application of our technology will be our scouting service targeting soft and top fruit that will be able to accurately count, size and map yields in real-time for unprecedented access to crop data.
Antobot was founded by experts in embedded controls and autonomous systems with backgrounds in the automotive industry who wanted to take these new technologies and apply them to agriculture, the most vital industry for human society.
Due to the increasing labour issues in both China and the UK leaving quality food rotting in the fields, our founders started off focusing on harvesting of soft fruit. But after speaking with our various partner growers in the UK, we found that there is a knowledge gap where a scouting service would be highly valuable for farmers and the entire supply chain – knowing exactly what is growing where, mapping yields, early detection of pest and disease and enabling per-plant precision action to take place. This scouting also strengthens our baseline computer vision and AI systems to a high degree of accuracy, enabling us to build upon this for our other full applications like harvesting and weeding.
Since beginning research and development in 2019, we have met several exciting milestones. We closed our seed investment round in May 2021 with strategic investment from Intron Technology (1760:HKG), an automotive electronics provider from China, enabling our growth from our fledgling team to 14 full-time members with a new office in Shanghai, internships, apprenticeships and the CDT with AgriFoRwArdS.
Aims and objectives
But what do we actually do? Well, the answer is a little bit of everything! We decided to develop our technology with full vertical integration, so all our software and hardware is produced in-house by our talented team of engineers in order to give us tighter control over the entire process and enable cost savings.
Affordability is a key area for us as we believe that all farms regardless of size should be able to access new technologies that are normally prohibitively expensive. This we achieve through our modular design and our main technology, the uRCU®, which combines all the modules needed for robotic control and AI into one unit.
Our vision is a full ecosystem of autonomous robotics, including harvesting, weeding and spraying, that can undertake these time intensive tasks with the support of our highly knowledgeable growers to deliver a transformative socially, economically and environmentally sustainable agricultural system.
Antobot and the AgriFoRwArdS CDT
Our collaboration with AgriFoRwArdS CDT will be a perfect way for Antobot to move forward with our vision through the collaboration on research projects for future product development alongside other CDT members to accelerate Agri-Tech solutions. AgriFoRwArdS has a wealth of technical expertise, and the CDT partnership Antobot is engaged with will provide an invaluable resource in our current development of our scouting service. In return, the CDT will have access to our highly capable and cost-efficient technology including our uRCU® and modular robot platforms, enabling the CDT to focus on specific Agri-Tech innovations.
Other key points
We are currently in the field trials stage and have several exciting projects on the horizon, but the main area that we would like to build on at the moment is strengthening our farming community. We would love to hear from horticulture growers, particularly any strawberry or apple farms in the Essex area, that would be interested in joining our pilots to help develop our knowledge on how our technology can work for you and validate the work we have done so far. There is so much knowledge and experience that we can learn from so we would love more people to join us!
Lincoln Agri-Robotics Host Summer Camp
The last week of September saw the Lincoln Agri-Robotics (LAR) project (funded by Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England Programme) host their 2021 Summer Camp. The week of activities consisted of targeted sessions to support the growth and development of PhD students and staff alike working within the Agri-Robotics research unit.
External facilitators delivered several themed sessions and workshops covering research proposal development writing skills, and the development of emerging leaders across research/academic roles and professional services.
One session focussed on being creative and developing six-word stories to pitch what we do a succinct way. Some six-word stories include:
- Help robot get on agricultural highways.
- Charging the planet but not polluting it!
- We’ll plan your next movement, robot.
- Humans and earth: it’s complicated.
- Take healthy food from earth smartly.
- Robots invading strawberries’ personal lives.
- Meals from seeds feed the world.
PhD students are working on agri-robotics projects that strive to make a real difference in the world, by investigating challenges that face the global agri-food industry: climate change, population growth, political pressures affecting migration and ageing populations. The Summer Camp was an opportunity for students to collaborate with one another to solve a ‘Grand Challenge’ which was set by Research Director for LAR and Professor in Agri-Robotics, Professor Elizabeth Sklar. During the final session of the week, students showcased demonstrations of their Grand Challenge solutions to academic and research staff working within the Agri-Robotics research unit.
The Observatory of Human-Machine Collaboration Project: A Year in the Making
The Observatory of Human-Machine Collaboration (OHMC) project launched last year as a collaborative venture between the Departments of Engineering and Computer Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge.
The second OHMC workshop was hosted by the Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory on the 24th of September, 2021 and was chaired by Dr Fumiya Iida.
Due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, the workshop was run as a hybrid event. A limited number of people were invited to attend the event in person and others watched workshop presentations and robotic demonstrations online.
Currently, the OHMC accommodates 5 research projects that represent different areas of human-robot collaborations, including agri-robotics. Despite the difficulties faced by academia last year, all projects involved demonstrated good progress and the workshop was a great opportunity for the researchers to report on their work.
- ‘Agri-station for automation and growth optimisation’ led by Dr Fulvio Forni (Department of Engineering, Agriforwards CDT)
- ‘Personalised Emotional care uSing human-rObot iNterAction (PERSONA)’ led by Dr Hatice Gunes (Department of Computer Sciences and Technology)
- ‘Low-Cost Intelligent Mixed Reality System for Responsive Human-Machine Interactions’ led by Dr Thomas Bohne (Cyber-Human Laboratory, IfM)
- ‘Wearable optical monitoring of brain function in healthy adults and people at risk of dementia’ led by Dr Gemma Bale (Department of Physics)
- ‘Eye tracking for 3D holographic displays’ led by Hannah Joyce (Department of Engineering)
The OHMC project also works on creating new opportunities for collaborations with companies and other research institutions. A talk by Matt Jones, a Principal Designer at Google AI, covered current interests of his research group at Google and discussed how in Matt’s view AI technology could benefit the humankind in future.
After the presentations, both virtual attendees and those who were able to attend in person were invited to robotic demonstrations.
OHMC workshop demonstrations:
- Agri-automation tent (Fulvio Forni, Engineering)
- Robot Kitchen (Gregorz Sochacki, Agriforwards CDT/BIRL)
- Vegebot (Simon Birell, Elijah Almanzor, Agriforwards CDT/BIRL)
- NIRS headset/eye tracker (Gemma Bale, Hatice Gunes, Thomas George-Thuruthel, Engineering, Computer Sciences and Physics Departments )
- AR/VR training (Thomas Bohne, Cyber-Human Lab)
- Foodly Hymanoid Robot (Kieran Gilday, BIRL)
- Chairless Chair (Fumiya Iida, BIRL)
- Mobile manipulator (J Jiang, Kieran Gilday, CuS)
- ARM CuR Robokit (Jierui Sui, CuS )
- Robotic piano playing (Huijiang Wang, BIRL/SMART)
- MorphFace (Thilina Dulantha Lalitharatne, BIRL)
- Soft Ring Actuator (Ryman Hashem, BIRL)
“Now’s the time the industry must come together for change,” says Jenney
Two new dynamic and highly relevant events have been developed by the UK’s Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) to educate and arm the industry in terms of tackling the challenges faced in all areas of the supply chain.
“We all saw this coming,” explains FPC’s chief executive, Nigel Jenney. “As many have echoed, it’s largely the result of a perfect storm of events and circumstances. “But what we can’t do is be complacent,” he continues. “There’s never been a more demanding time for the fresh produce industry: Labour shortages, the lorry driver crisis and now escalating energy bills have all created unprecedented challenges. “So, we all need to step up! It’s time for change!
“FPC have spent months developing these crucial events for the industry and we urge, not only our members, but everyone with an involvement in the fresh produce supply chain, to participate in finding the necessary solutions for their business and for the industry as a whole.” The events, both which are free to attend, will be jointly held at Lincolnshire Showground on 4 November and have been developed in partnership with the University of Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT). They each tackle different challenges faced by the industry in a unique way.
FPC Future has been created to be the agritech event for the fresh produce and flower industry and will house an exhibition, conferences, and tours.
“This much-needed event will educate and showcase all that is new right now, as well as exploring what the future promises,” explains FPC event manager Cristina Melenchon. “Visitors will be able see how new technologies can help them become more efficient, increase productivity and help their workforce” she added. The conference programme is an extensive one, with eight conference sessions covering pre and post farm robotics and automation, data driven technologies, plastics and packaging, supply chain waste, carbon supply chains, vertical farming and sustainability.
In short, there’s something for everyone!
There will also be a dedicated theatre, where exhibitors can present their latest offerings to a captive audience. This, coupled with the facility for working displays, gives exhibiting companies aunique opportunity to ensure their products and services are seen.
“FPC Future is the perfect platform for companies wishing to showcase their next generation technology and product lines to the growers, packers, importers, exporters, retailers, wholesalers and service providers,” explains FPC’s Business Development Manager Linda Bloomfield.
“Innovation will drive the future commercial success of the sector and this is a great opportunity for those in agritech to take part as an exhibitor in order to showcase their solutions, forge new contacts and ultimately pick up new business,” she adds.
FPC Careers has been developed to connect today’s up and coming talent with the food chains’ best employers. Alongside the opportunity to meet face-to face-with representatives from major fresh produce companies and specialised recruitment agencies, industry experts will be available throughout the day to provide attendees with free advice, mentoring and guidance.
“Our industry desperately needs new employees and this is a fantastic opportunity for companies to showcase their businesses and career possibilities to students and other young jobseekers at a time when they are considering the first or next steps that they wish to take with their careers,” explains Bloomfield.
“As well as the many face-to-face opportunities on the day, there’ll be a dedicated CV clinic and our official photographer will be on hand to take a free headshot photo for attendees’ professional social media pages,” adds Melenchon.
“Exhibiting at a specialised event like this is a cost-effective and efficient way of engaging with younger jobseekers interested in joining our sector, as well as forging connections with the specialised recruitment agencies who will also be taking part, concludes Bloomfield “