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AgriFoRwArdS Newsletter Issue 6 - October 2021 Edition

Welcome to the sixth issue of the AgriFoRwArdS CDT Newsletter, scroll down to find out what has been happening within AgriFoRwArdS, and the wider Agri-Food Robotics community, recently.

Applications are now being taken to join Cohort 4 (entry in October 2022), visit the AgriFoRwArdS website for more information.

Welcome to Cohort 3 AgriFoRwArdS CDT Students

We would like to welcome our third cohort of talented AgriFoRwArdS students who commence their MSc RAS studies, with the University of Lincoln, this month.

We are pleased that these 13 students will join our existing students, and the AgriFoRwArdS community is looking forward to watching their successes.

We are proud to introduce the AgriFoRwArdS students below.

Alex Elias

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.

Alex will be conducting his PhD Research at the University of East Anglia

Bethan Moncur

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.

After her MSc at Lincoln, Bethan will return to Cambridge to study her PhD.

Emlyn Williams

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.

Following his MSc, Emlyn will continue his PhD study at Lincoln.

Garry Clawson

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.

Garry will move on to Cambridge for his PhD study.

James Bennett

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.

James will be moving to East Anglia when the time comes to complete his PhD.

James Tombling

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.

James will be joining his fellow students at East Anglia to study his PhD.

Kyle Fogarty

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.

After studying his MSc Kyle will be moving to Cambridge.

Nikolas Tsagkopoulos

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.

Nikolas will be completing his MSc and PhD study at the University of Lincoln.

Paul-David Zuercher

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.

Paul will be returning to Cambridge after studying his MSc.

Rachel Trimble

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.

Rachel will be returning to study her PhD at Cambridge.

Samuel Carter

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.

Callum will be studying both his MSc and PhD at Lincoln

Vijja Wichitwechkarn

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.

Vijja will study his PhD at Cambridge.

Xumin Gao

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.

Xumin will be continuing his PhD study at Lincoln following the MSc.

Recruitment for the entry to the AgriFoRwArdS CDT in October 2022 (Cohort 4) is open now, visit the AgriFoRwArdS website for more information.

AgriFoRwArdS PhD Students - A Warm Welcome From Cambridge, UEA and Lincoln!

The AgriFoRwArdS CDT Teams at Cambridge and UEA would like to welcome their new students, who are starting their PhD courses at the beginning of October 2021. The Lincoln team would like to say a hearty ‘welcome back’ to those students who are returning after studying the MSc RAS last year. All students have successfully completed their PhD applications, and are currently settling into their colleges and accommodation.

Every graduate Engineering student at Cambridge is invited to attend a Departmental Graduate Induction Day, in addition they would like to say a special welcome to their CDT students and have invited them to a Welcome Event which will happen in the OHMC space at 4pm on the 15th of October.

UEA’s Agriforwards-funded postgraduate researchers will attend a series of events, to induct them into their Faculty Graduate School and the School of Computing Sciences, and ease them into their doctoral studies. They have also been invited to a special AgriFoRwArdS welcome event on 15th October.

Lincoln AgriFoRwArdS students are all invited to the L-CAS Away Day, an induction activity taking place at the beautiful Riseholme campus. The event will give them the opportunity to get to know fellow students, and to meet the Lincoln RAS academics and the AgriFoRwArdS Lincoln team.

The last academic year has been a challenging one for students across academia, and the whole AgriFoRwArdS team would like to congratulate every student for their achievements and resilience.

We are looking forward to their future academic successes.

Drink Outside the Box Continues

The student led 'Drink Outside the Box' continues in the new academic year. With hope that more events will be able to take place in person, a blended approach is being taken. Sessions will remain online for the majority, however, there will be specific face-to-face events planned, details of which will be disseminated at a later date.

The Drink Outside the Box Team are currently planning a special get together for the AgriFoRwArdS Students in November. This will be the first opportunity for all 30 students to come together, socialise, discuss each others research and get to know each other. More details will be sent to students as they become available.

If you would like more information, or would like to be part of the student planning team, please email theAgriforwardsBox@lincoln.ac.uk.

CDT Students Visit Jersey for Research Trip

Bradley Hurst (University of Lincoln) and Elijah Almanzor (University of Cambridge) are members of the Second Cohort of AgriFoRwArdS CDT Students. Officially beginning their PhD study in October 2021, they started their research early, with a trip to visit CDT Industry Partners, Jersey Farmers' Union (JFU).

Bradley, Elijah and their Primary PhD Supervisors, Dr Nicola Bellotto and Dr Fumiya Iida, respectively, visited Jersey in September. During the two-day stay they spent time with JFU members, including FRU President, Peter Le Maistre, who will be working with both students as Industry Advisor throughout their PhDs.

The academics and researchers were met at the airport and taken to visit the Company Head Office. There, they were introduced to other members of the JFU team, including Vice-President Dougie Richardson and JFU Secretary Jane Rueb, and were given an overview of the history of potato farming on the island. The highlight of the visit was the trip to the potato fields, to see first hand the current planting process.

The current process of planting potatoes is labour intensive. It starts with a small tractor cutting tracks, potatoes are then planted in these tracks by hand, finally the tractor runs over the planted potatoes burying them.

Both students valued the time spent with the JFU team, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting somewhere so scenic. They were given the opportunity to learn about Jersey’s interesting history, and to see the similarities and differences between the UK and Jersey. The purpose of the trip was for the students and academics to understand the challenges faced by the JFU, and to understand how their research will provide real life solutions.

Elijah found the trip extremely helpful;

We got to chat with the Jersey farmers and discussed the details of the actual potato planting operations. Through this we were able to establish some basic requirements needed for robotic manipulation and computer vision.

Bradley is eager to get started on the project

Up until the visit, we could only work off assumptions around the project with little knowledge about the actual problem. The trip offered us an opportunity to not only define the constraints of the problem better but also to turn unknown unknowns into known unknowns by discussing the problem and ideas with the end users in detail.

Both students, academics and the JFU Advisors found the meeting useful, interesting and a great way to start the projects and, as Bradley says; ‘Now the work towards developing an initial solution can begin’.

Please visit the AgriFoRwArdS website to read more about the JFU projects, with Bradley and Elijah.

You can find out more about Jersey Farmers’ Union in the Industry Partner section below.

AgriFoRwArdS CDT Plan 2021/22 activities

The AgriFoRwArdS Team have put together a wide variety of activities, that will run throughout the upcoming academic year.

Many of the activities involve the whole AgriFoRwArdS community, with input from students, academics, industry partners and agri-robotics colleagues from other organisations across the sector.

The CDT has published two new pages on the website, specifically aimed at the AgriFoRwArdS students and academics, detailing future activities. This is to ensure that planning can be done by Primary Supervisors around key dates in the AgriFoRwArdS calendar, and so that potential areas of involvement can be identified by all.

  • Students can view upcoming activities here.
  • Supervisors can view upcoming activities here.

These pages include events, training, governance meetings and extra-curricular activities.

If you have any questions regarding the activities, or have a suggestion regarding any additional activity, please contact agriforwards.cdt@lincoln.ac.uk

The AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series Returns

AgriFoRwArdS CDT is pleased to announce the return of the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series.

Following a successful series of talks last year, organised by the University of Cambridge, we would like to invite you to join us for the 2021/22 AgriFoRwArdS CDT Seminar Series, organised by the University of Lincoln. The talks will continue to occur on the third Friday of each month, 3pm to 4pm, via Zoom.

Our first talk, taking place on the 15th October, will be given by Charles Nicklin CEng FIAgrE MIMechE, Chief Executive Office of the The Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE).

The hour-long online event will be Chaired by Prof Marc Hanheide (CDT Director). The talk will be followed by a student panel, who will delve further into the information provided by Charles Nicklin, and there will also be the opportunity for audience members to ask questions.

Within his talk titled 'Agricultural Engineering and the role of the IAgrE' Charlie will present on diversity of the agricultural engineering discipline, where the IAgrE fits in, detailing the benefits of membership and professional registration, whilst covering a little about his own career journey.

Charlie Nicklin was appointed as CEO of IAgrE in October 2020, following 24 years in the global agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer JCB. A Chartered Engineer and Fellow of IAgrE, Charlie has held a number of senior engineering leadership roles in JCB on various successful market leading products. Charlie will present on diversity of the agricultural engineering discipline, where the IAgrE fits in, detailing the benefits of membership and professional registration, whilst covering a little about his own career journey.

We do hope you can join us for what promises to be a great 2021/22 Seminar Series. You can also view all previous talks, including the 2020/21 Seminar Series, on the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series Archive.

We are actively looking for AgriFoRwArdS Community members to do a talk at future sessions of the Seminar Series. The audience is made up of AgriFoRwArdS students; other robotics and agricultural PhD researchers; academics from UEA, Cambridge and Lincoln; academics and students from other Universities; and industry partners. It is an opportunity to share research; to define industry specific challenges which may inspire solution finders; to provide sector information and predictions; and much more.

Please get in contact if you would like to present, or if you wish to be included in future communication regarding the 2021/22 Seminar Series: agriforwards.cdt@lincoln.ac.uk.

AgriFoRwArdS sponsors TAROS 2021

The Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems (TAROS) Conference is the longest-running UK-hosted international conference on Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS). It is aimed at the presentation and discussion of the latest results and methods in autonomous robotics research and applications.

The University of Lincoln, and Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) hosted this years event, which was sponsored by the AgriFoRwArdS CDT.

The AgriFoRwArdS CDT provided planning and technical support to enable the smooth running of the conference, which was a great success.

There were presentations covering a wide range of topics within autonomous robotics, from ant inspired robotics to 3D point clouds.

Keynote presentations were given by Yiannis Demiris from Imperial College London, Nick Hawes from the University of Oxford and Barbara Webb from the University of Edinburgh. Yiannis discussed personal assistive robots, with Barbara taking about ant inspired robotics. Nick's presentation was an IET Public Lecture, you can watch his talk 'An Uncertain Mission: Decision Making for Autonomous Robots' on the AgriFoRwArdS YouTube Channel.

L-CAS Welcomes New MSc RAS Students

The Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) held their annual away day on Friday 8th October. The event, which took place at the University of Lincoln's Riseholme Campus, provided the L-CAS and AgriFoRwArdS Community with a wonderful opportunity to all come together for the first time after what has been a trying 18 months.

The event gave L-CAS the perfect chance to welcome the new MSc RAS students, who joined the University this October, which of course, included our very own Cohort 3 students.

We saw presentations from three of our Cohort 1 students, who each gave an update on their PhD research so far. Karoline, Roopika and Willow each provided a 10 minute talk on their research, giving the new students and L-CAS colleagues, an opportunity to hear about some of the research occurring within the CDT.

Attendees also heard from others within the Lincoln robotics community who presented their research findings to date; Attendees heard how RAS technologies are being used and developed; and how varying challenges, within different sectors, are being addressed.

The Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems specialises in technologies for perception, learning, decision-making, control and interaction in autonomous systems, especially mobile robots and robotic manipulators, and the integration of these capabilities in application domains including agri-food, healthcare, intelligent transportation, logistics, nuclear robotics, service robotics, and space robotics.

Planning Begins for the 3rd Annual CDT Conference

The 3rd Annual AgriFoRwArdS CDT Conference will be hosted by the University of Lincoln in June 2022. After two fantastically successful virtual Annual Conferences in 2020 and 2021, held by the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge respectively, Lincoln is delighted to host the first in-person CDT Annual Conference.

The theme of the conference will focus on autonomous agriculture and sustainability, and keynote presentations will be heard from experts within these fields.

The University of Lincoln will host the 2022 AgriFoRwArdS CDT Annual Conference

Dates for the diary: 22nd and 23rd June 2022

Location: Isaac Newton Building, Brayford Campus, University of Lincoln

A Drinks Reception & Conference Dinner will be hosted at the beautiful Riseholme Campus (and will include a tour of the facilities)

Tickets will include entry to the Lincolnshire Show, on the afternoon of the 23rd June

More information about the Conference will be disseminated in due course. Watch this space!

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.

Carolina is working with the CDT closely, particularly towards achieving our EDI Strategy

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.

Carolina has participated in international development projects promoting technological innovations in agriculture.

AgriFoRwArdS Supervisor Dr Letizia Mortara

Letizia Mortara is a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and a Senior Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. She is also an Associate Editor for the R&D Management Journal, a Theme Editor for R&D Today, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Bologna in Italy and Visiting Professor at Sogang University (South Korea). Since 2017, she is Head of the R&D Management Conference, leading the strategic direction of the conference, aiming to reflect the needs of those engaged in both R&D and innovation management research and practice. In 2018 she was elected Senior Fellow at Newnham College.

Her specific research interests include technology intelligence (i.e. the activity set-up in order to keep abreast with the latest developments in technology) and open innovation. She is currently studying the advent of Digital Fabrication technologies in manufacturing (e.g. 3D Printing) and their implications for business.

Letizia joined the AgriFoRwArdS CDT in 2019 and will start supervising her first CDT student, Bethan Moncur, when she joins the University of Cambridge next academic year.

Letizia has worked within the Centre for Technology Management at the Institute for Manufacturing since 2005. Prior to this, she gained her first degree in Industrial Chemistry at the University of Bologna in Italy. After spending three years working as a Process/Product Manager in the chemical industry, she moved to the UK where she gained her PhD in processing and process scale-up of advanced ceramic materials at Cranfield University.

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.

Jersey Farmers' Union will be collaborating with two CDT students from the 2nd Cohort, Bradley Hurst (University of Lincoln) and Elijah Almanzor (University of Cambridge)

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.

History

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!

Antobot will be collaborating with Ni Wang, who will be studying her PhD under the supervision of Prof Graham Finlayson at the University of East Anglia.

Agri-TechE Upcoming Events

  • Monday 8th November @ 8:00 am to Friday 12th November @ 5:00 pm - Agri-Tech Week 2021. Find out more.
  • Wednesday 10th November @ 9:00 am to 5:15 pm - REAP Conference 2021: Changing Time(s) For Agriculture. Find out more.
  • Wednesday 1st December @ 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm - Young Innovators’ Forum: Food Enterprise Park with Condimentum. Find out more.

Find out more about AgriTechE here.

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.

OHMC Projects:

  • ‘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)
Robotic demonstrations at the OHMC Workshop showed various applications, including robotic piano playing and the Foody Humanoid Robot

The next OHMC workshop will happen in September 2022 and we hope that we will able to invite more people to take part in this event. Until then, we would like you to keep an eye on our web-site for new exciting developments in the Observatory of Human-Machine collaboration.

Fresh Produce Consortium

“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

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

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 “

You’ll be able to hear a range of agritech talks and presentations on key themes from leading industry figures and academics as well interacting with businesses in the exhibition area. Registration will be free for all delegates and there will be an opportunity to sign up for tours of the University's Riseholme Campus too showcasing the University’s AI, robotics and engineering projects.

AgriFoRwArdS CDT Students will be in the Careers tent to talk about the research paths within the CDT, and how they hope to impact the sector with their research. They will also be available elsewhere, chatting with industry about what's going on in the sector, their research, and ideas and opportunities available.

To register at FPC Future click here. To register at FPC Careers click here. To enquire about becoming an exhibitor or sponsor contact linda@freshproduce.org.uk.

If you have any comments, information or news you wish to share with the AgriFoRwArdS community, please do get in touch - We'd love to hear from you.

The AgriFoRwArdS CDT Delivery Team - agriforwards.cdt@lincoln.ac.uk

Visit us on the web at www.agriforwards-cdt.ac.uk and don’t forget to subscribe to the AgriFoRwArdS CDT YouTube channel here.